clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The places the government sends migrant children face allegations of abuse

Lawsuits allege that children and teens were beaten and handcuffed in Virginia and forcibly drugged in Texas.

Protestors march against the separation of migrant children from their families on June 18, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Protesters march against the separation of migrant children from their families on June 18, 2018, in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

The Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy at the border that resulted in the separation of hundreds of children from their parents has put fresh scrutiny on the facilities where migrant kids are held — and investigations have found that multiple facilities have faced allegations of misconduct and abuse in the past.

The Associated Press on Friday reported that Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, a Virginia juvenile detention center where some migrant children are held, has faced claims of abuse in federal court filings in a lawsuit that include statements from multiple Latino teens kept there for months or even years. They allege they were beaten, handcuffed, left nude in cold cells, and punished by being restrained for hours in chains.

The children alleging abuse aren’t those separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Most of them are migrant minors who were detained by the government because they were caught crossing the border alone, and many were accused of being members of violent gangs, including MS-13. It’s not clear whether kids separated from their parents more recently are being held at the Shenandoah facility.

Whether the kids were actually in gangs isn’t clear. A manager at Shenandoah said during a recent congressional hearing that the children didn’t appear to be gang members but were instead suffering from mental health issues. Last year, a separate facility in Yolo County, California, found that minors sent there had also been improperly identified by the government as gang members.

The lawsuit filed against Shenandoah alleges that migrant immigrants held there “are subjected to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care,” according to the Associated Press.

The complaint, filed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, contains disturbing details:

After an altercation during which the lawsuit alleged the Mexican teenager bit a staff member during a beating, he was restrained in handcuffs and shackles for 10 days, resulting in bruises and cuts. Other teens interviewed as part of the court case also reported being punished for minor infractions with stints in solitary confinement, during which some of the children said they were left nude and shivering in cold concrete cells.

Another lawsuit claims a Texas facility injected children with drugs

A separate report from Reveal News on Wednesday alleged abuses by another facility for immigrant children: the Shiloh Treatment Center, a government contractor near Houston.

A lawsuit alleges that children were forcibly injected with medications that, according to reporters Matt Smith and Aura Bogado, made them “dizzy, listless, obese, and even incapacitated.” The complaint says children were told they wouldn’t be released or see their parents unless they took medication and were told they were only getting vitamins.

A number of the shelters and facilities with government contracts and grants to hold immigrant children have faced allegations of misconduct and abuse. The San Antonio Express-News reported earlier this month that Texas health regulators have documented some 150 standards violations at more than a dozen migrant children centers across the state run by Southwest Key Programs, which has billions of dollars in grants with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order ending family separation, but the more than 2,000 children already split from their parents at the border remain in limbo. Moreover, thousands more migrant children who tried to enter the US unaccompanied will remain in shelters, many of which have questionable practices.