Police have responded to at least 125 calls in the past five years alleging sex offenses at shelters that house immigrant children, ProPublica reported Friday. The investigative non-profit said police reports and call logs also document allegations of fights and missing children.
ProPublica said it used public information requests to acquire the documents pertaining to 70 of about 100 shelters run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
The calls date to 2014, in the final years of the Obama administration.
CNN has not been able to acquire the data used by ProPublica in its report.
“Our focus is always on the safety and best interest of each child,” the Health and Human Services Department said. “These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and HHS treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care.”
It said the refugee resettlement office has a “zero tolerance policy” for sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior.
The department said violations of policy are acted upon quickly. Employees can get disciplined, be fired or reported to law enforcement.
ProPublica cited the report of a 15-year-old boy from Honduras who was touched inappropriately at a shelter in Tucson, Arizona, in 2015. A 46-year-old male employee was convicted of molestation.
“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center, told ProPublica. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”
The Tuscon center’s parent company, Southwest Key, sent ProPublica a statement that the center has a strict policy on abuse and neglect and takes every allegation seriously, the story said. CNN reached out to Southwest Key and other centers mentioned in the article but didn’t get an immediate response.
The article mentions the reports don’t indicate whether children were separated from their parents or were unaccompanied minors.
ProPublica also reported:
- Psychologists believe some children do not report incidents, so the data does not include all instances of abuse.
- Some reports were for alleged abuse that occurred in the child’s home country.
- Some reports were allegations against other immigrants housed at the shelters.
- Police were also called for “minor incidents and horseplay not uncommon in American schools.”
A former Obama official said shelters housed children for a short time after they arrived in the United States and they were well-run. “But if you’re serving 65,000 children in a year,” the official told ProPublica, “there are going to be some bad incidents.”