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Rep. Ted Deutch Releases Details Of Sexually Abused Migrant Children


Thousands of migrant children who arrived in the U.S. without their parents have reportedly been sexually abused while in government custody. The numbers were included in documents that were released yesterday by a Democratic congressman. And a note that the content of this next report will contain details of sexual abuse. Here's NPR's John Burnett.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is in charge of caring for underage immigrants, received more than 4,500 allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment between 2015 and 2018. The reporting begins under the Obama administration. Of those complaints, some 1,300 were serious enough to refer to the FBI, but an official says the vast majority proved to be unfounded. Most of the assault allegations involved one minor abusing another, but 178 of the complaints were against staff at the shelters, in particular youth care workers who escort the children everywhere they go. The complaints range from inappropriate romantic relationships between children and adults, to touching genitals, to watching children shower.

Representative Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat, told the House Judiciary Committee that the nation's 135 shelters are an unsafe environment.


TED DEUTCH: Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children.

BURNETT: Federal officials say the safety of minors are the top concern, and all shelter employees undergo criminal background checks. Here's Commander Jonathan White of U.S. Health and Human Services.


JONATHAN WHITE: We share the concern that, I think, everyone in this room feels. Any time a child is abused in the care of ORR is one time too many.

BURNETT: Some 13,000 so-called unaccompanied migrant children are in the custody of ORR. They either traveled to the U.S. border alone or with a relative who's not their parent or legal guardian. They stay, on average, for about three months at the shelter before they're released to go live with an adult sponsor while they await their day in immigration court. Immigrant advocates believe the shelters are not physically and emotionally healthy places for adolescents. They've called on the administration to more quickly discharge the children. John Burnett, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.