As we all scramble to understand what exactly will happen to undocumented immigrant children taken from their parents now that President Donald Trump has walked back his administration’s policy of family separation, a new Associated Press report has shed light on a different—but equally horrifying—facet of America’s broken immigration system. In it, the AP alleges that one of the facilities used to house unaccompanied minor immigrants in the United States has been the site of horrific abuse against children as young as 14 years old.
According to the AP, at least six sworn statements made in federal court filings allege that teenagers at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center—a 58-bed operation outside Staunton, VA—were subjected to brutal abuse that could best be described as torture at the hands of facility employees. From the AP’s report:
“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15 years old. “Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. ... They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”
If that sounds a little Abu Ghraib-ish, you’re on the right track. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the alleged abuse. Again, per the AP:
In addition to the children’s first-hand, translated accounts in court filings, a former child-development specialist who worked inside the facility independently told The Associated Press this week that she saw kids there with bruises and broken bones they blamed on guards. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to publicly discuss the children’s cases.
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[a lawsuit] alleges staff members routinely taunt the Latino youths with racially charged epithets, including “wetback,” ″onion head” and “pendejo,”
The lawsuit said Latino children were frequently punished by being restrained for hours in chairs, with handcuffs and cloth shackles on their legs. Often, the lawsuit alleged, the children were beaten by staff while bound.
As a result of such “malicious and sadistic applications of force,” the immigrant youths have “sustained significant injuries, both physical and psychological,” the lawsuit said.
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.
I have reached out to both the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as officials at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (which has denied the claims in court filings) for comment on the allegations. I will update this story with their responses.
While the Shenandoah Vally Center does not reportedly detain children separated from parents—it jails only those who crossed into the U.S. by themselves, with some children detained for months or even years—the AP notes that it is overseen by the same government agencies as other centers, such as the now-infamous Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, TX, where separated children are among those being held.
According to the AP, most of the immigrant detainees at the facility were sent there on suspicion of being affiliated with the MS-13 street gang—something one of the facility employees claimed during a congressional hearing that she saw no evidence of during her time at the center. This is hardly surprising, considering the government has been shown—in court—to essentially fabricate gang affiliation in order to punish immigrants living in the United States.
It’s seems fairly clear that as centers like these become the subject of more and more scrutiny, allegations like those described in the AP’s report will only become more and more common. The only thing to do now is to tear it all down.