On Wednesday the Trump administration reversed itself on a policy that, until recently, it staunchly defended: forcibly taking migrant children from their families at the southern border.
But while family separation may be coming to an end, there is no plan to reunify with their families the approximately 2,000 children sitting in cages in U.S. Customs and Border Protection detainment centers. And questions remain about where those children, some of whom are infants and toddlers, will go from here, especially as their guardians are fast-tracked for deportation with no idea where their children are or how to contact them. In the past, migrant children have been pushed from CBP detainment centers to foster care and longer-term shelters designed specifically to care for immigrant youths.
But as a new report from Reveal found, a number of those long-term, government-subsidized shelters have been hit with heinous accusations of mistreatment of vulnerable migrant youngsters, including negligence, physical and sexual abuse, and forcible injections of drugs.
As the Reveal report notes, these government-contracted shelters will now be taking on the responsibility of caring for the influx of children ripped by the U.S. government from their families.
The violations are so heinous and varied that it’s hard to identify the worst of them. There’s Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas, for instance, where state inspectors uncovered poorly supervised medication procedures that included forced drugging.
“A pending lawsuit alleges immigrant children housed there were held down and forcibly injected with drugs, rendering them unable to walk, afraid of people and wanting to sleep constantly,” Reveal writes.
One mother, finally reunited with her son after he stayed in the Shiloh center for six months, says that her son was regularly physically abused and was given psychotropic drugs (medical records confirm this).
In another instance, a mother was finally reunited with her son after he was caught by Border Patrol and kept in a short-term residential care center for young people outside New York City. It wasn’t long before her young son was assaulted by one of the older children, according to an interview she gave to PRI.
The mother had received a phone call telling her that her son would be flown to Atlanta after spending the night in a New York hospital. She told PRI that shelter officials told her that there had been “an incident,” but her son was “fine” and they would give her son a police report detailing what happened. The son arrived in Atlanta without any records.
When the mother spoke to her son, she said he told her that he was in pain. She took him to an Atlanta hospital, which she said concluded the boy had been sexually assaulted.
The only other documentation of the incident the mother received: a bill for $800 from the New York hospital.
But despite multiple allegations of abuse at centers across the country, these shelters continue to get large government contracts.
“In nearly all cases, the federal government has continued to place migrant children with the companies even after serious allegations were raised and after state inspectors cited shelters with serious deficiencies, government and other records show,” according to Reveal. According to the report, of 70 companies that won grants, only two lost contracts after confirmed complaints.
In one particularly egregious example:
Merice Perez Colon, an employee of a temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November for engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with minors housed at the shelter. In one case, she asked a 15-year-old boy for a pornographic video of him, which he provided.
The shelter, which shut down suddenly in April 2017, reopened in February after the federal health agency awarded it a contract of $20 million, which grew to more than $30 million when the number of children housed doubled from 500 to 1,000.
Over the past four years, American taxpayers have paid these private companies $1.5 billion. As politicians in Washington, D.C., deliberate on the fates of thousands of migrant children and their families, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is currently in the process of awarding three-year grants to shelters, with the deadline coming at the end of the month.