The investigative journalism outlet Reveal reported on Monday that the U.S. government is keeping a number of unaccompanied minors—young migrants who came to the U.S. without their parents—in undisclosed facilities around the country.
These secret shelters have never been acknowledged by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency that is responsible for these minors, and their existence hasn’t even been confirmed to attorneys working with the minors.
It remains unclear how many total sites are under operation, but there are at least five in Arkansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia, holding at least 16 boys and girls for the refugee agency, some as young as 9 years old.
Minors being held at the clandestine facilities initially were placed at known shelters around the country but later were transferred to these off-the-books facilities that specialize in providing for youth with mental health and behavioral challenges.
It’s unclear whether such sites existed before the Trump administration.
Reveal has released details about some of these facilities to the public for the first time. And they’re not good.
Another provider, Rolling Hills Hospital in Ada, Oklahoma, is a facility for children and adults that is holding at least one minor in the refugee agency’s custody. An investigation by The Oklahoman published earlier this year revealed that patients complained of broken bones, along with “allegations of sexual harassment and physical abuse” at the hospital. A 2017 inspection report reviewed by Reveal describes multiple violations, including employees who said the hospital failed to provide staff orientation, patient records that indicated registered nurses had not provided necessary assessments, and a facility where patient deaths went unreported to the governing body for oversight.
Some of these facilities are run by Acadia, a national company that operates residential care facilities for minors. There have been multiple allegations of mistreatment at Acadia facilities.
In November, a critical investor detailed a litany of abuse allegations at Acadia-run facilities, including Rolling Hills. A December 2017 lawsuit accused Acadia and Rolling Hills of permitting ongoing sexual abuse inside a facility for children, destroying video evidence and refusing access to a state investigator.
Acadia didn’t respond to Reveal’s request for comment. Neither did the ORR, beyond an acknowledgement that it had seen the request. (We have also reached out to the ORR for comment and will update if we hear back.)
Not only is it creepy that some migrant children may be kept in secret shelters, it may also break the agency’s own rules.
In the ORR’s standards for transferring youth under its care, the agency says it “makes every effort to place children and youth within the ORR funded care provider network.” They add that out-of-network transfers can happen, and that “there may be instances when ORR determines there is no care provider available within the network to provide specialized services needed for special needs cases. In those cases, ORR will consider an alternative placement.”
As Reveal noted, the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, a court case that set limits on how long minors can be held by the government and in what conditions, mandates that the federal government is supposed to provide lawyers representing unaccompanied minors with regular updates on all children held by the ORR.
In these cases, the ORR will not even confirm where these children are, almost certainly breaking the terms of this agreement.
Earlier this month, a judge sided with the ACLU in another class action lawsuit that is attempting to force the Trump administration to reunite thousands of families separated at the border under his “zero tolerance” policy.
The Trump administration has faced scrutiny on these issues since implementing its policy to detain asylum seekers, even those with very young children, at the border. Two high profile deaths of children in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in the past several months has heightened concerns about the practice.
Read the whole piece over at Reveal.
Update, 2:33 p.m. ET: Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the Administration of Children and Families, a division of the Department for Health and Human Services, sent the following response to Splinter’s request for comment:
The Office of Refugee Settlement (ORR) takes the safety and security of every minor referred to our care with the utmost seriousness. ORR policies for placing children and youth in its custody into care provider facilities are based on legal requirements as well as child welfare best practices in order to provide a safe environment and place the child in the least restrictive setting appropriate for the child’s needs. ORR does not have “clandestine” facilities. All permanent ORR unaccompanied alien children (UAC) facilities are appropriately state licensed and monitored, at a minimum, on a monthly basis by ORR. Every minor is assigned a Case Manager who is in close contact with the child and their family regarding the placement. UAC attorneys are also aware of their placement.
Specifically, at times facilities providing highly specialized care are used based on UAC needs. These facilities can be out of the ORR care network. It is long standing practice for ORR to provide specialized care out of our network of shelters. Currently, ORR has approximately 15-20 UAC in out of network placements. While UAC are in these out of network placements, they are assigned to ORR grantee programs who provide ongoing case management. ORR is committed to ensuring that all UAC, including those in out of network placements, have access to proper care and services.
Care providers must comply with all applicable State child welfare laws and regulations and all State and local building, fire, health and safety codes. Care providers must deliver services in a manner that is sensitive to the age, culture, native language, and needs of each unaccompanied alien child. Care providers must develop an individual service plan for the care of each child.
Our monitoring ensures adherence to strict ORR standards and allows us to swiftly address any alleged violations of our policy. This includes initiating immediate employee disciplinary action, termination, and reporting to law enforcement agencies and all relevant licensing bodies.
Additionally, care providers are also required to maintain records of case files and make regular reports to ORR. Care providers must have accountability systems in place which preserve the confidentiality of client information and protect the records from unauthorized use or disclosure.
For a comprehensive summary of care provide required services please review the UAC Policy Guide at: www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/children-entering-the-united-states-unaccompanied-section-3#3.3.