State and federal agencies are investigating conditions at an Illinois shelter following a Washington Post report that included allegations of abuse against children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The investigations come at a time of mounting complaints against Casa Guadalupe, one of about 100 shelters nationwide that house migrant children detained at the border, including more than 2,500 taken from their parents under the Trump administration’s family separation policy.
On Monday, the day after The Post published its story, a Guatemalan immigrant filed a federal lawsuit in Miami claiming her 11-year-old son was harassed by an older boy and injured as a result of the shelter’s negligence. And on Tuesday, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) called for an investigation.
“I am distressed at the allegations made by children in The Washington Post article,” Durbin wrote in a letter to Heartland Alliance in which he said he had asked the HHS inspector general to investigate and demanded to know “what steps Heartland will take to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable, and how Heartland will work to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
Heartland Alliance said it reported the allegations to state regulators immediately after learning of them from a Post reporter on July 13. The nonprofit said it welcomed the outside investigations and is now “well into” its own internal investigation. Officials there said they could not comment on any findings or specific allegations because of privacy restrictions.
“The safety of children under our care is our foremost concern,” spokeswoman Barbara Hoffman said in a written statement. “Heartland Alliance is a 130-year-old human rights organization that has been providing shelter to unaccompanied minors for more than 20 years. Our trained child-care staff, clinicians, and social workers follow extensive policies, procedures, and standards of care that guide our trauma-informed approach to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care. We take any concerns about our program extremely seriously and appropriately report, investigate, and address each matter that comes to our attention.”
Four children said shelter employees had made them do chores, including scrubbing toilets with their bare hands. An 11-year-old boy from Guatemala claimed he had been roughly dragged off a soccer field. A 10-year-old from Brazil said he had been denied medical attention after breaking his arm. The 10-year-old and another Brazilian boy, age 9, said they had seen a shelter employee repeatedly give injections to an unruly 5-year-old from Guatemala named Adonias, after which the boy became sleepy.
Amy Maldonado, an attorney representing Adonias, said Heartland Alliance appeared to be taking the allegations seriously, including reviewing surveillance footage from inside the shelter.
Maldonado said that she had reviewed her client’s medical file from the shelter but that there was no sign of injections other than vaccines. She said she was requesting a blood test by an outside physician to see if there were traces of sedatives in the boy’s system.
“I believe the child witnesses,” she said.
Jesse Bless, an attorney for the two Brazilian boys, said that he welcomed the investigations but that broader questions remained about the treatment of children separated from their parents by the Trump administration.
“We know that there’s been irreparable damage to the children and their parents who are struggling to understand what happened and why,” he said. “The investigation should extend to the government forces whose actions allowed this to happen.”
His comments echoed those of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who responded to questions about the allegations this week by telling reporters that “we would not be in this situation if President Trump had not instituted what is, quote unquote, the zero tolerance policy.”
In recent weeks, the federal government has been reuniting children separated from their parents ahead of two deadlines set by a federal judge in San Diego. The next deadline is July 26.
Maldonado said she worried that her client would not be released by the deadline, so she intended to file a federal complaint demanding that he be reunited with his father immediately. For the time being, she said, the boy remains at Casa Guadalupe.
“This child,” she said, “has been through hell.”