A US-backed Kurdish alliance is holding talks in Damascus with Syrian government representatives with an eye on Turkish ambitions in Syria.
A US-backed Kurdish alliance is holding talks in Damascus with Syrian government representatives with an eye on Turkish ambitions in Syria.
Israeli occupation forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque and fired bullets, tear gas and sound grenads at the worshipers after Friday prayers injuring dozens of worshipers.
Dozens were reported injured from concussion bombs thrown at random by police in the direction of people as they were trying to leave the compound, according to medical sources, who said most of the injuries were light and were treated at the location.
The Israeli occupation forces pushed up more forces into the squares of the mosque and besieged worshipers inside Al-Aqsa.
According to the Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, police broke into the mosque compound immediately after the Friday prayer was over and brutally attacked the worshippers of all ages with any probable reason causing several injuries.
Israeli troopers raid Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest shrine in Islam and an icon of Palestinian statehood.
Money, money, money – more important than ethics, morals or their own regulations A Facebook suspension and a YouTube probation, for videos that violated policies, followed weeks of controversy over Mr. Jones, who oversees Infowars.
One shelter, in Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side, still bears an awning with the name of a nursing home, though no senior citizens have lived there in years.
Another is a two-story, brick home next to a storefront Zumba studio in Rogers Park.
At a third, a converted convent on a busy residential street in Beverly, neighbors sometimes glimpse teenage boys playing volleyball and soccer in a gated yard but have no idea who they are.
These buildings and others in Illinois anonymously house migrant children detained after crossing the border to the United States — some who came on their own and, more recently, those forcibly separated from their parents.
As the Trump administration has come under fire in recent weeks for its zero tolerance immigration crackdown, much attention has focused on the children and conditions at shelters along the country’s southern border and in major metropolitan areas on the coasts.
But here in Illinois, an opaque web of 11 shelters houses thousands of children each year, including more than 100 in recent months who were separated from their parents. By Thursday, in a rush to meet a court-ordered deadline, all but 17 of those children had been reunited with their families, according to the organizations that house them.
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ProPublica Illinois reporters identified the shelter locations in Chicago and the suburbs and then obtained police reports, state inspection records and other documents, as well as conducted interviews with children, parents, lawyers and current and former employees to learn more about where the children are detained and the care they receive.
The nonprofit that runs most of the facilities, Heartland Human Care Services, is part of Heartland Alliance, a large, Chicago-based anti-poverty institution that works on health services, homelessness prevention and other social issues and is generally well-regarded. But troubling incidents have also occurred behind the iron fences that surround many of these shelters, our investigation found.
Heartland has received little public scrutiny until now, although, of the more than 100 federally contracted sites around the country, it has received the fourth-highest amount of federal dollars for housing unaccompanied minors since fiscal year 2015 — more money than any other organization outside Texas.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services cited Heartland for a supervision violation after an employee was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a minor at the International Children’s Crisis Center in Bronzeville in 2015. The state agency concluded the inappropriate relationship allegation was unfounded and Heartland fired the employee, records show.
Heartland received another supervision citation in 2016 after DCFS found that children had engaged in sexual activity at its facility in Des Plaines, called Specialized Care for Immigrant Children or Casa Guadalupe. In addition, at least five children have run away from Heartland shelters between 2015 and 2017, according to reports from DCFS and the police.
There also has been at least one allegation of battery, though DCFS said the allegation could not be corroborated. Requests are still pending for other records that could shed more light on conditions.
Heartland declined to comment on any specific incidents but said it takes immediate action if “policies, practices and/or standards of care are not being followed.”
In recent weeks, Heartland was named in a lawsuit alleging negligence after an 11-year-old boy was injured by an older boy at Casa Guadalupe. It also was sued at least twice last month by lawyers working to reunite parents with their children. After recent media reports detailed several children’s serious allegations of mistreatment, including claims that staff injected a young boy with a sedative, local, state and federal authorities began asking questions of an agency unaccustomed to public criticism.
DCFS last week opened two investigations. Chicago aldermen, some angry they weren’t told shelters housing separated children were in their wards, passed an ordinance Wednesday that requires Heartland to disclose to city officials the addresses of its facilities and other information about them.
Five of the shelters are spread throughout Chicago. Two are in Rogers Park, the brick home called the International Youth Center that can house 15 children, and a larger site that can hold 70 children, known as the International Children’s Center. About 40 children can live in the former convent in Beverly, also called the International Children’s Center. A home in Englewood, named Casa Heartland at Princeton, has space for 19 children, while the largest site — the converted nursing home in Bronzeville — can hold as many as 250.
In addition to the Chicago sites, Heartland houses up to 116 children at its four cottages in Des Plaines on the campus of Maryville Academy, a Catholic child welfare agency.
Maryville also operates two of its own shelters, in Des Plaines and Bartlett, where 55 children are currently placed. Four children separated from their families were housed in the Maryville shelters, but they have since been reunited with their families.
Heartland has received more than $180 million in federal funds since the 2013 fiscal year for services for unaccompanied minors. The federal government has paid Heartland about $40 million so far this fiscal year, roughly the same amount awarded for all of last year, which was up from $25 million in 2016. Heartland attributed the jump to a change in the federal government’s staffing requirements, among other factors.
To hear the social service agency describe it, living at one of its shelters can be like a combination of school, day care and summer camp. Children spend six hours a day in class, play games and sports, and go on field trips to the zoo, museums and the beach, Heartland officials said. Most children will stay for a few weeks or months, until they are united with a family member or sponsor. Others may live at a shelter for more than a year.
But the facilities are, in effect, detention centers. Children are not free to leave. Most of the Chicago locations have little outdoor space. Former employees describe feeling at times like prison guards, as the children follow strict schedules and use bathrooms without locks.
Heartland answered many of ProPublica Illinois’ questions about its shelters but also said the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that takes custody of unaccompanied minors, has restricted how much information it can provide.
“But we also stand with children who are alone or cross the border alone,” David Sinski, the executive director of Heartland Human Care Services, said in an interview. “I’m sure you can appreciate as a human rights organization … there are conversations all the time about how to ensure we stay focused on our mission of human rights and carrying out the work for vulnerable children.”
Heartland officials acknowledge that their mission has become more complicated this summer as they cared for children sent to them as part of a policy of separation they oppose because it causes “additional trauma” to already troubled families.
“We believe children and families seeking safety and refuge here in the U.S. should be treated with dignity,” Heartland said in a written statement. “We will continue to do all that it takes to provide for their safety and well-being while we work to reunify them with their parents.”
At a City Council hearing earlier this week, Sinski and an attorney for the organization said repeatedly that the federal government prohibited them from providing even the most basic information about how many children the agency is currently sheltering or how much money it receives to do the work.
“To have a partner who so willingly works against the very nature of what this city stands for, of being a sanctuary city, that cares for its children and is trying to do the right thing, I think it’s outrageous and disgusting,” Ald. Raymond Lopez, of the 15th Ward on Chicago’s Southwest Side, told Heartland officials during the hearing. “While your original goals may have been good, where you have wound up has put you in a bad place.”
At another meeting, Ald. Ameya Pawar, of the 47th Ward on the city’s North Side, argued that Heartland was taking a public beating as a stand-in for the Trump administration.
“These children should have never been separated. They shouldn’t be in Chicago. They should be with their parents,” said Pawar, who worked on refugee resettlement at Heartland as an intern nine years ago. “But they’re here and if any agency should be taking care of them, it should be Heartland Alliance. They do God’s work.”
The Trump administration’s controversial policy of removing children from their parents when they were caught illegally crossing into the United States thrust into the national spotlight a decades-old system designed with another set of children in mind.
Heartland Alliance began providing shelter for unaccompanied minors coming to the United States without their parents in 1995. The shelters operate under a contract with ORR but Heartland declined to provide its agreement, saying it was not allowed to do so. ORR has not yet responded to a request for those records or to questions about how it monitors facilities for unaccompanied minors. According to Heartland, the federal agency conducts weekly meetings with Heartland staffers to discuss the children, daylong visits to each site at least once a month and a weeklong visit at least once every two years.
Shelter locations are supposed to be kept secret, ostensibly to protect children who may be vulnerable to traffickers, smugglers or gangs. This also has meant the shelters operate with little public attention, raising questions about who, if anyone, is providing sufficient oversight.
DCFS’ oversight function is primarily technical, checking for compliance with minimum program standards during scheduled licensing inspections once a year.
“We’re very clear about what our role is,” said Neil Skene, DCFS special assistant to the director. “We are a state licensing agency. It’s a federal program. These are federal kids.”
The federal government, Skene said, holds the “first responsibility for the safety and well-being of these children.”
DCFS is charged with investigating allegations of abuse or neglect against any child in the state, but that typically occurs only after a call is made to report suspected harm.
Some aldermen, as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said they were skeptical of DCFS’ ability to provide oversight, given the agency’s own decades-long history of botched investigations and child deaths.
A ProPublica Illinois review of DCFS inspection reports found that the shelters have typically complied with state rules, though there have been some troubles over the years. Among them:
In addition, state fire marshal inspection reports revealed violations ranging from not having enough exits in the case of a fire to doors not having adequate fire ratings.
As part of its annual inspections, DCFS also reviews a sample of children’s files to ensure they receive required health care services. In several cases, the agency noted that children were not screened for communicable diseases within 72 hours of arrival, as required. DCFS denied a request for additional reports about incidents of medical emergencies, abuse or neglect and other serious events.
ProPublica Illinois has requested police reports for incidents at every Heartland address but so far has received only reports about the shelter in Beverly.
There, a 17-year-old boy ran away in November 2016 after about a year in detention. The teen, who may have fled to join family in Houston, had not been found four months later and police suspended their investigation, records show. It’s unclear if he was ever located.
Serious allegations against Heartland, first reported by the New York Times and Washington Post, came earlier this month from two children who said they witnessed a Casa Guadalupe employee give a child an injection that made him fall asleep. Another boy said he had been dragged by two adult male shelter employees after lingering on a soccer field.
Heartland said its own investigation has turned up “no evidence” so far that confirms what the boys said about the injection.
In a separate case, a Guatemalan mother filed a lawsuit last week accusing Heartland staff of negligent supervision after her 11-year-old son was allegedly bullied and injured by an older boy while he stayed at the Des Plaines shelter.
According to the lawsuit, the boy’s complaints about bullying were ignored by staff, who told him to “stop complaining.” In late May, according to the lawsuit, the older boy pushed the 11-year-old in a bedroom, causing him to hit his head against a metal bed frame. The boy was taken to the hospital and required three staples in his head, according to the complaint.
Heartland said it is looking into the allegations but does not believe they are valid.
Heartland officials said detained children are encouraged to report any problems to staff, or use a designated phone to call DCFS or federal authorities. But the 11-year-old told ProPublica Illinois he didn’t know there was a phone available to report abuse and never saw signs indicating he could use a phone.
“Some workers treated me badly. Some treated me well,” he said.
He said older boys who’d been at the shelter for several months discouraged him and others from getting into fights with each other, or complaining about bullying, “because then the staff would have to file a report, and then you would have to stay [at the shelter] longer.”
The boy’s mother, Otilia Asig-Putul, said she spoke to her son twice by phone while they were separately detained. He’d never been hospitalized before the incident at Heartland, she said. They are now reunited and plan to live in Virginia.
“I called him. I asked him how he was. He said he had had a problem. He did not tell me he had gone to the hospital. I cried and cried without getting any answers about what was happening,” she said. “I was desperate. He told me he was fine. … They tried to calm me down. They never told me anything.”
Prompted by these allegations, Chicago aldermen voted this week to have city officials periodically inspect the facilities, saying they are concerned state and federal officials are not doing enough.
An impromptu inspection last week by city building, health and fire department inspectors found what one official described as “run-of-the-mill” problems, including porch violations, jammed doors and too much artwork covering a wall — causing a potential fire hazard.
Several aldermen said they were unaware that shelters have existed in their wards for years. Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. said Heartland never contacted his office to notify him.
“I saw those kids playing soccer,” said Brookins, who represents the 21st Ward on Chicago’s South Side. “I had no idea who they were. I had no idea that they were unaccompanied minors to this country. Absolutely I want to know where all those shelters are.”
Heartland’s shelters often remain a mystery even to the closest neighbors, as former staff say they were told not to identify them to anybody who asked and most of the buildings lack signs. Iron fences and security cameras surround the properties. When there’s a yard, it is often enclosed with netting material that makes it difficult to see in — or out.
Allen Dunbar, 80, who lives down the block from the Beverly shelter, said he has noticed an increase in the number of children recently, mostly Latino boys, but did not know who they were.
“Trump took them right here to 98th Street?” Dunbar asked as he sat on his porch on a recent afternoon. “That’s really messed up. What’s going to happen to the kids?”
Heartland would not confirm if children separated under the zero-tolerance policy were housed at the Beverly shelter.
The state’s sex offender registry shows a convicted child sex offender lives within 500 feet of the Beverly facility. Illinois law prohibits child sex offenders from residing within 500 feet of a facility that serves children under 18, but it is unclear if offenders or authorities would know the facility houses children because Heartland does not make public its addresses. The Illinois State Police, which maintains the registry, did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Heartland declined to address that question and instead said staff closely supervise children.
The largest of Heartland’s shelters sits along a commercial strip in Bronzeville, also on the South Side. The building houses boys and girls, with the girls living on the first floor, records show. Red and yellow bunk beds are visible through tinted windows.
On a recent weekday morning, two boys playing by a third-floor window waved as a reporter stood on the sidewalk below. Three more children in an adjacent room then appeared at another window, smiled and waved.
Later that morning, about 60 children played volleyball and other games on a turf field outside. They were mostly teenage boys, though a few looked younger. Despite a driving rain, they laughed and cheered when they scored during the volleyball match.
Records show some children separated from their parents were housed here.
“I thought it was an orphanage,” said Nikki Moore, 30, who works at a restaurant across the street. “A lot of people ask and nobody ever knew what it is. It’s secretive.”
She looked toward a boy standing near the fence who looked about 9. He reminded her of her own son, she said.
“I’m torn apart seeing that boy,” she said. “It is not like you can catch one and talk to them and say anything.”
While Heartland shelters in Chicago are on busy streets, the organization’s complex of multi-story brick buildings in Des Plaines sits tucked away on green fields on Maryville Academy’s vast 116-acre campus.
An employee of a nearby church said this week she has seen children — some as young as 4 or 5 — play basketball, run along the stretches of grass and attend mass at the church.
“They look happy. They look well-fed,” she said. “Sometimes I see them and feel sad though, because they are so secluded from everyone.”
Rigo said he turned 17 inside Heartland’s facility in Beverly. He fondly remembers some aspects of the three months he spent there in the summer of 2012: the meals, cleanliness and order.
Other memories make him angry. Rigo — who is now 23 and asked that his full name not be used because he is living in the U.S. illegally — said some shelter employees threatened the teens who did not participate in required daily outdoor physical exercises.
“Even if you felt sick, you had to do the exercises,” said Rigo, who is from Guatemala. “The punishment was that you couldn’t go to recess that day… or they would tell you that they would notify the supervisor, and he would tell your lawyer to delay your [immigration] case.”
Another recent shelter resident also told the Washington Post that the staff threatened to delay their cases for breaking rules. Heartland told ProPublica Illinois those types of threats would be against the organization’s policies. There “is no connection between any child’s participation in programming and the status of their immigration proceedings. And staff receive ongoing training on how best to communicate with children,” Heartland wrote in an email.
Attorney Jesse Bless, who has represented families with children recently housed at Casa Guadalupe in Des Plaines, said the children shared troubling stories about their time there. He was not allowed to visit the shelter.
“I know that the children got immunizations but the children already had them,” Bless said. “…Immunizations given to children without parental consent is simply flat-out wrong … They stripped parents of their natural rights.”
He said the children were allowed to talk with their parents for 10 minutes, twice a week, while an employee stood nearby.
Bless’ clients have made some of the most serious allegations against Heartland, including that staff injected a child with a sedative. “I don’t know what happened with these children, but none of it was good,” Bless said. While acknowledging that Heartland is like the “middleman” following federal rules, he said the organization shouldn’t get a pass.
“I can sympathize with their juxtaposition of being between a rock and a hard place,” Bless said. “That doesn’t make it OK.”
Some former employees express conflicted feelings about their work at Heartland, describing being driven by the mission to help vulnerable children but also uncomfortable with an atmosphere that sometimes felt prison-like.
A former employee at the Bronzeville location said the children were well cared for within a restricted environment. He recalled taking them out for ice cream but also said the children followed strict routines and had little privacy.
“The purpose of these facilities is to remain invisible, to be no part of the community whatsoever,” said the employee, a family reunification specialist. “If we saw anybody from the community who wanted to come to the front door for anything, we had to turn them away immediately.”
Britt Hodgdon, 38, a social worker trained as a trauma therapist, interviewed for a job at the Bronzeville location several years ago. Among other concerns, Hodgdon said she was bothered that the sign on the building’s awning identified it as a nursing home.
“Why do these kids need to be hidden in plain sight?” Hodgdon said. “People have a right to know when children are being held in their community, perhaps against family wishes.”
Just five days after he reached the United States, the 15-year-old Honduran boy awoke in his Tucson, Arizona, immigrant shelter one morning in 2015 to find a youth care worker in his room, tickling his chest and stomach.
When he asked the man, who was 46, what he was doing, the man left. But he returned two more times, rubbing the teen’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers. “I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” said the worker, who was later convicted of molestation.
In 2017, a 17-year-old from Honduras was recovering from surgery at the shelter when he woke up to find a male staff member standing by his bed. “You have it very big,” the man said, referring to the teen’s penis. Days later, that same employee brushed the teen with his hand while he was playing video games. When the staff member approached him again, the boy locked himself in a bathroom.
And in January of this year, a security guard at the shelter found notes in a minor’s jacket that suggested an inappropriate relationship with a staff member.
Pulled from police reports, incidents like these at Southwest Key’s Tucson shelter provide a snapshot of what has largely been kept from the public as well as members of Congress — a view, uncolored by politics, of troubling incidents inside the facilities housing immigrant children.
Using state public records laws, ProPublica has obtained police reports and call logs concerning more than 70 of the approximately 100 immigrant youth shelters run by the U.S. Health and Human Services department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. While not a comprehensive assessment of the conditions at these shelters, the records challenge the Trump administration’s assertion that the shelters are safe havens for children. The reports document hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.
The recently discontinued practice of separating children from their parents has thrust the youth shelters into the national spotlight. But, with little public scrutiny, they have long cared for thousands of immigrant children, most of them teenagers, although last year 17 percent were under 13. On any given day, the shelters in 17 states across the country house around 10,000 adolescents.
The more than 1,000 pages of police reports and logs detail incidents dating back to the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America in 2014 during the Obama administration. But immigrant advocates, psychologists and officials who formerly oversaw the shelters say the Trump administration’s harsh new policies have only increased pressures on the facilities, which often are hard-pressed to provide adequate staffing for kids who suffer from untold traumas and who now exist in a legal limbo that could shape the rest of their lives.
“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”
Southwest Key wouldn’t discuss specific incidents, but said in a statement that the company has a strict policy on abuse and neglect and takes every allegation seriously. HHS declined ProPublica’s requests to interview the refugee resettlement program’s director, Scott Lloyd. The agency released a statement saying it “treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care” and has a “zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior” at the shelters.
But the reports collected by ProPublica so far show that in the past five years, police have responded to at least 125 calls reporting sex offenses at shelters that primarily serve immigrant children. That number doesn’t include another 200 such calls from more than a dozen shelters that also care for at-risk youth residing in the U.S. Call records for those facilities don’t distinguish which reports related to unaccompanied immigrants and which to other youth housed on the property.
Psychologists who’ve worked with immigrant youth said the records likely undercount the problems because many kids might not report abuse for fear of affecting their immigration cases.
It’s unclear whether any of the children mentioned as victims in the reports were separated from their parents at the border, but the reports include several children as young as 6 years old. The government faced a court deadline Thursday to reunite the nearly 3,000 children who were separated from their parents. But the administration told the court that more than 700 of those children remain in shelters or foster care because their parents have already been deported or have been deemed ineligible for reunification for various reasons.
Not all the reports reveal abuse. The shelters are required to report any sexual allegation to the police and many reports detail minor incidents and horseplay not uncommon in American schools. For example, the BCFS International Children’s Shelter in Harlingen, Texas, called the police in February after one minor entered another’s room and rubbed a small styrofoam ball on the juvenile’s buttocks.
And, once secure in the shelters, some immigrant children report assaults that occurred not at the shelters, but in their home countries. Last November, a 14-year-old girl staying in a shelter in Irvington, New York, told staff she had been raped in Honduras by a man who was now in immigration custody.
But the reports show that the allegations of staff abuse and inappropriate relationships that occurred in Tucson aren’t isolated. In February, a 24-year-old youth care worker at KidsPeace in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was placed on administrative leave after kissing a teenage boy in the laundry room. Just over a year earlier, a 21-year-old staff member there was accused of kissing a 16-year-old girl in the hallway. The BCFS shelter in Harlingen was written up by state regulators in 2017 after a staff member flew to New York to visit a former resident. And at a Southwest Key shelter outside San Diego, reports show, a female employee who had been accused of kissing a juvenile quit after being confronted with information that the teenager had the woman’s Snapchat account written on a piece of paper.
KidsPeace wouldn’t discuss personnel matters but said “the safety and well-being of our young clients are our top priority.”
ProPublica has contacted BCFS and is waiting to hear back.
The reports also reveal dozens of incidents of unwanted groping and indecent exposure among children and teenagers at the facilities. Some kids fleeing threats and violence in their home countries arrived in the United States only to be placed in shelters where they faced similar dangers. In March, a 15-year-old boy at the Southwest Key shelter in Tucson reported that his roommate lifted up his legs as he was trying to go to sleep, made thrusting motions and said, “I’m going rape you.” And in late 2016, a 15-year-old at KidsPeace told police that another boy there had been forcing him to have oral sex. After an investigation, one teen was transferred to a more secure facility. (KidsPeace said it wouldn’t discuss specific information about kids in its care.)
While it’s difficult to get a complete count, the police reports show that children go missing or run away from the shelters roughly once a week. Several shelters have seen a significant increase in missing person and runaway calls since the start of 2018. St. PJ’s Children’s Home in San Antonio, which primarily cares for immigrant children, has had 26 such calls in the first half of the year, records show, compared to 14 for all of last year and nine for 2016.
St. PJ’s Children’s Home did not respond to calls for comment.
The police reports also raise questions about how Southwest Key, the largest operator of immigrant shelters, handles such incidents. In the molestation case involving the 46-year-old staffer, police had obtained edited surveillance footage but later sought a complete, unedited version. Southwest Key, however, had taped over the footage. And in another case, police noted that Southwest Key refused to give officers records from an internal investigation.
Southwest Key CEO Juan Sánchez declined an interview. The Texas-based nonprofit has received more than $1.3 billion in federal grants and contracts in the past five years for the shelters and other services. Jeff Eller, a spokesman, said, “We cooperate with all investigations.”
Government officials and advocates say most immigrant youth shelters were never intended to house children long-term. But in recent weeks, the average length of stay has climbed to 57 days from 34 days just two years ago.
Maria Cancian, deputy assistant secretary for policy at HHS’s Administration for Children and Families from 2015 to 2016, said typically the shelters only housed immigrant kids for the “honeymoon period” when they first arrived in the U.S.
“The kids didn’t have a chance to get bored and ornery,” she said. “The longer kids are there, the more trouble you’re going to have, and the more opportunities there are for relationships to evolve in ways that are more challenging.”
Cancian, who served under President Obama, said the shelters were well run when she was there. “But if you’re serving 65,000 children in a year,” she said, “there are going to be some bad incidents.”
The network of federally funded shelters sprang up after HHS took over the responsibility of caring for unaccompanied children arriving at the border in 2003. For most of their existence, the shelters received little attention, serving fewer than 8,000 children a year. But in 2014, that number surged to nearly 60,000 as a flood of teenagers fleeing gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador sought asylum in the U.S.
The shelters — whose operators have been paid about $4 billion over the past five years — were designed as temporary way stations, where new arrivals could get acclimated while staffers tried to locate family members who could care for them while their immigration cases wound through the courts.
There are now approximately 100 shelters scattered from Seattle to suburban New York, but concentrated in Texas and Arizona. They range from old motels to stand-alone homes, from a converted Walmart to a former estate set amid mansions, where on a recent day a deer could be seen prancing through the leafy grounds.
The children arrive with a host of needs, said Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas, a clinical psychologist who helped develop shelter guidelines on behalf of the National Latina/o Psychological Association.
Many children have experienced traumatic events in their home countries, are desperate for stability after the long journey, and have little understanding of American laws — all things that make them particularly vulnerable.
“When a perpetrator is trying to pick a victim they’re picking somebody that they think is less likely to report the abuse,” Chavez-Dueñas said. “Children and youth that are coming from outside of the country, that have no legal status here, that don’t speak English, that don’t have access to lawyers or people who can protect them — they already might think they’re not going to be believed.”
In the back of their minds, she said, is the fear that speaking up could ultimately hurt their immigration case.
The worker who was convicted of molesting the boy in Tucson isn’t the only shelter employee to face criminal charges. Last year, according to court records, a youth care worker at a Homestead, Florida, shelter was sentenced to 10 years in prison after she sent nude photos of herself to a 15-year-old boy who had recently left the shelter and asked him for sex. In 2012, a case manager at a Fullerton, California, shelter was convicted of molesting several teenage boys when they went into his office for regular calls with family, court records show.
The shelters must complete background checks complying with both federal standards and state licensing requirements. They are overseen by an overlapping system of regulators that ostensibly provides a lot of enforcement tools. When incidents occur, shelters are required to alert the police and the ORR. They may also have to notify state agencies that license child-care facilities.
Bob Carey, who was director of ORR from 2015 to 2017, said each week he read through a stack of significant incident reports submitted by the shelters, summarizing everything from behavior problems to allegations of sex between staff and minors. Looking at them over several years, he said, there weren’t many serious incidents that stood out.
“When I was there, the overwhelming majority of what was reported was one kid slapping the butt of another kid in the cafeteria line,” he said. “But you want to make sure that when the more serious incident does happen, that people know what do.”
When there were serious problems, he said, the agency would initiate an investigation that could result in “corrective actions,” ranging from increased monitoring to the termination of the grant. Field staff assigned to the regions where the shelters are located can make unannounced visits day or night. In Texas, licensing officials can also issue fines, order shelters to make changes and ultimately revoke a shelter’s operating license. But in practice, the harshest tools have rarely been used.
Monitoring the shelters can be extremely difficult as the number of unaccompanied children can fluctuate wildly from year to year.
The rise and fall means the shelters are in a constant state of flux, making it difficult to retain and train staff. Last spring, Southwest Key laid off almost 1,000 employees — only to have to ramp up several months later. Current and former employees describe a stressful environment where overstretched and underpaid care workers do the best they can with little training to handle kids in crisis.
“It’s really hard to imagine how difficult it is to quickly ramp up appropriate care for children,” Cancian said. “The more people you have to bring in fast and the less experienced your staff, the more challenges there are to maintain standards.”
In response to the influx in 2014, Carey and other officials developed a plan to restructure the ORR to improve oversight of the unaccompanied minor program by increasing staff and supervision, shifting field employees to regions where new shelters had popped up and trying to resolve longstanding data problems. The plan began to take shape at the end of 2016.
But it’s unclear what happened when the Trump administration took over and initiated a hiring freeze. An HHS spokeswoman would only say that the plan “was never implemented by the last administration” and that “today, operations are constantly reviewed and improved on an ongoing basis.”
Several police reports obtained by ProPublica raise questions about how serious incidents were handled by shelters.
In one case in Tucson in 2015, two female employees told managers that a maintenance supervisor had groped them, tried to pull one of them into a room, and then made a sexual gesture with a broom handle. When no action was taken, an assistant shift leader notified the police.
The employees told police that the assistant program director said he had lost one of women’s statements while another manager told them to “drop it and leave it alone.” The assistant director told police that the company held a sexual harassment class and suspended the maintenance supervisor while it investigated, but couldn’t prove or disprove the allegations because the supervisor denied them. When a police detective asked for copies of the employees’ statements, police records say, a lawyer for Southwest Key refused to provide them.
According to the police report, the employees said they feared that if the maintenance supervisor was “doing this to female employees, who’s to say he’s not doing this or worse to the several hundred female refugees staying at the center.” The man had full access to the building, they told police, and the minors might be hesitant to speak up.
The reports also show that when inappropriate touching or abuse occurred among residents at the Tucson shelter, the staff and police often left it up to minor victims to decide whether to file charges against other children.
The process for reporting and investigating incidents was inconsistent at other shelters as well.
A former employee at KidsPeace in Pennsylvania said that staff members frequently attended police interviews of residents who reported misconduct, potentially creating a conflict of interest. KidsPeace spokesman Bob Martin said the agency’s interactions with police and other governmental entities are “scrupulously conducted” to ensure that neither kids’ “personal well-being nor their legal rights are put at risk while they are in our care.”
At a Southwest Key shelter in Conroe, Texas, in May, a boy told a youth care worker that his mental health counselor brushed his shoulders, rubbed his arm and caressed his face while continually peeking out of the office’s blinds “as if he was checking to see if someone was coming.” The counselor began to unbuckle his own pants, but stopped, the police report said.
The boy later repeated the story to a state child welfare worker. The counselor was suspended during the investigation. But a more formal forensic interview didn’t take place until six days after the incident.
At that point, the police report said, the boy “made no outcry regarding any criminal offense” and the case was closed.
Waiting six days for a forensic interview is not on its face unusual, said David Palmiter, a psychology professor at Marywood University who has conducted forensic interviews of abused children. But he noted that the interview should be done sooner rather than later.
“Everything from legitimate confusion to some calculation of what the consequences could be or whether they would please or hurt the adults around them could impact the child,” he said. “There could be any number of reasons why the story changes.”
A large part of the current pressure on the shelters stems from a series of changes made by the Trump administration in how it handles unaccompanied minors, immigrant advocates say.
As part of an information-sharing agreement, the ORR is now required to provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement with potential sponsors’ names, dates of birth, addresses and fingerprints so that ICE can pull criminal and immigration history information on the sponsor, usually a family member, and all adult members of the sponsor’s household.
Officials say the vetting is being done to protect children. In one case a few years ago, the agency unintentionally turned teenagers over to a smuggling network that forced them to work on an egg farm to pay off their debts.
But immigrant advocates say the policy is deterring family members who are often undocumented from coming forward, leaving children to languish in shelters where they may become increasingly desperate.
The police reports detail repeated calls about runaways.
“It wouldn’t be that difficult for kids to run away from these facilities if they really wanted to,” said Carey, the former ORR director. “But they were expecting to be pretty quickly reunited with a parent or sponsor. That didn’t create a big incentive for them to try to run away.”
As the lengths of stay increase with sponsors less likely to come forward, he said, “that might conceivably create an incentive to voluntarily depart.”
For many of the teens, who may have already run away from gangs in their home countries, as well as predators along the route and the Border Patrol, bolting from the shelters is unsurprising.
In February, a recent arrival at Southwest Key’s Tucson shelter, whom staff and ICE believed was older than he claimed, jumped off a second-floor balcony into the parking lot, climbed a light pole and bounded over the fence.
At the Lincoln Hall Boys’ Haven in the New York suburbs, four boys disappeared in 2016 after being taken to a clinic for X-rays and other medical treatment. Last summer, two boys who were awaiting deportation at the Southwest Key shelter in Conroe, Texas, took off running as a large group of students was being escorted to a class.
According to ORR’s policy guide, agency staff are supposed to assess whether a child is an “escape risk” in deciding whether to place him or her in a more secure setting.
But in most facilities, the kids can’t be forcibly restrained from leaving.
“We are not a detention center,” said Eller, the Southwest Key spokesman. “If a child leaves the property, we cannot force them to stay, but we talk to them and we work with law enforcement to ensure their continued safety.”
Court records describe the Honduran teen by the initials M.A.C. He’d crossed the border in McAllen, Texas, and was taken to the Southwest Key facility in Tucson, where he was told caseworkers would help reunite him with his father in South Carolina. He’d been in the U.S. just five days and the next day was his 16th birthday.
In the dim morning hours that Saturday, a man M.A.C. knew only as Oscar walked into his room, wearing a Southwest Key T-shirt that read “I Love My Job.”
Oscar Trujillo, 46, was one of the first people M.A.C. met when he arrived at the facility on Friday, April 10, 2015. He viewed Oscar as an adult he could trust.
Standing at the boy’s bedside, Trujillo lifted M.A.C.’s blanket and began tickling him on the chest and stomach, according to transcripts of his 2017 trial. The boy testified that he was confused, but he didn’t shout or pull away because he saw Trujillo as a grownup and a teacher.
M.A.C. didn’t know that Trujillo had already violated one of Southwest Key’s major rules by entering the child’s room alone.
“That is something that is instilled in our minds day one,” said Jeff Cotton, a former Southwest Key employee who was the shift supervisor the day Trujillo entered the boy’s room. “Do not be alone with these kids because there could be an instance where you are accused and if you are accused, you want to have a witness.”
Trujillo left the boy’s room, but returned a short time later and lifted the child’s blanket again. He resumed the tickling, but this time he also rubbed M.A.C.’s penis through his clothing, court records show. The boy moved Trujillo’s hand.
“I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” Trujillo told the boy, according to police records.
Oscar P. Trujillo
(Tucson Police Department)
Trujillo left the room, and again returned a short time later. Surveillance cameras caught Trujillo entering and exiting M.A.C.’s room alone each time. On his third trip into the boy’s room, Trujillo attempted to lift the child’s boxers and slip his hand in the boy’s underwear, according to trial records.
This time M.A.C. pulled away. Trujillo asked the child not to tell anyone or else his job could be at risk, the records show. The boy, feeling violated and confused, got dressed and stood in line at the cafeteria.
“I felt uncomfortable over everything that had happened,” M.A.C. told a jury last year. “I knew it was something that shouldn’t be happening in a place like that, and I knew that I needed to say something to someone about that, because it was something that was serious. So I asked to speak to my counselor.”
After M.A.C. was interviewed by police and a psychologist, Trujillo was arrested and never returned to the Southwest Key facility.
Trujillo could not be reached for this story, but in court he testified that he went in and out of M.A.C.’s room to give him toiletries and to teach him how to make his bed. Trujillo’s attorneys also claimed that M.A.C. concocted the abuse claim in order to become a candidate for a U-Visa, which allows immigrants who are victims of crimes to remain in the country.
The jury wasn’t convinced. Trujillo was convicted of one count of molestation and sentenced to three years of probation.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that children and youth that are coming from other countries are arriving here and trying to play the system and apply for things that even people that have been here for years don’t know about,” said Chavez-Dueñas, the clinical psychologist, who is also an associate professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.
Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said the problems revealed in the police and court records are to be expected given the “very significant needs” of the children and the staff’s lack of specialized training. His organization has offered its membership’s expertise to assist the facilities.
With such a mismatch in needs and capacity, he said, “You’re more likely to have kids running away. You’re more likely to have incidents of sexual and physical abuse.”
Such a result, Evans said, is “not surprising.”
L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Thursday he would launch a comprehensive study of cliques of deputies within the department that brand themselves with matching tattoos.
— Read on www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-sheriff-tattoo-oversight-commission-20180726-story.html
WTF Friday 😠
They showed their lack of character when they voted for Dolt45.
IF, after watching him become an international embarrassment, they aren’t willing to apologize for their vote…they need not be paid any mind.
Two examples of what I’m talking about.
From the Washington Post:
China needs to be punished for stealing patented U.S. technology. This is not the right approach.
By Kalena Bruce July 25 at 12:47 PM
Kalena Bruce, a fifth generation rancher living in Stockton, Mo., operates a commercial ranch.
President Trump is considering expanding tariffs to apply to $500 billion worth of Chinese imports. This move would double the level of tariffs that Trump recently imposed on Chinese goods. It would apply to nearly all of China’s exports to the United States.
To mitigate tariff damage to U.S. farmers, who are already facing rising input costs and reduced export markets, the Trump administration announced Tuesday that it would extend them $12 billion in aid.
I am a farmer and a Trump supporter. I agree that China needs to be punished for stealing patented U.S. technology. But opening a new front in this trade war, while trying to reduce the blowback on farmers with a Great Depression-era transfer program, is not the right approach. It is the economic equivalent of treating a hangnail by cutting off your finger.
Now, he’s gonna put her in the poor house, through a ill-conceived trade war….
BUT, SHE STILL SUPPORTS HIM.
She’ a friggin’ farmer. What does she have to do with the ‘ intellectual property rights’ that China is stealing?
What does that possibly have to do with a farmer from Missouri?
Absolutely nothing…but, she needs to be able to spout some talking point in order to justify still supporting someone who is making her broke by the minute.
While the article might disgust you, click through to read the comments.
They were PURE GOLD!!
People WERE NOT HAVING IT!!
They put a smile on my face.
Here is someone who had a confrontation with a couple of Dolt45 Supporters:
So, I had an interesting run-in with some Trumpers today, and it’s story worth telling. (Mute now if you’re not into story time.) I was part of a panel at Harvard talking about the Helsinki summit. Afterwards, two middle-aged women had some, er, questions. /1
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) July 25, 2018
During the talk, I had said (in response to a question) that Helsinki was not going to move the needle on Trump’s base support, not least because the Trump base is willfully ignorant and refuses to hear anything they don’t like about the summit or about Russia at all. /2
After the talk, they wanted a debate. “Did you say I’m willfully evil?” one asked me. I said: “No, I said you’re willfully ignorant.” Much spluttering. (Both were immigrants, btw: India and post-Soviet region.) /3
Both did the standard Trump thing: talking at me in a fusillade of words punctuated with questions that they would not let me answer. This is a compulsion with Trumpers: they must – *must* – constantly explain to you why they *had* to vote for Trump. /4
There was the standard litany of phantom Trump successes, including – really – that Trump is “taking jobs away from foreigners and making them give them back to Americans.” When I brought up foreign workers at Mar A Lago, they agreed: Bad. But Trump? Good. /5
Finally, I said: “Look, what you believe to be true is false. The things you think are facts are not facts. We can’t go further here.” This elicited lots of fast talking about why false things were true, and why Trump is generally awesome. /6
Finally, one of them said: “You should respect my view and not call me ignorant. That’s not reasonable” I said: “You are not a reasonable person, and this is not really a discussion where I can respect your view. You think Trump is doing great. I think he’s a disaster.” /7
To which she said, and I quote: “Well, he’s not as bad as Obamanation.” I said: “Obamanation?” She said: “That’s what he was, an abomination.” This was the person who had just implored me to be respectful and reasonable. I rolled my eyes and she left. /8
The other lady was nicer, and said that I was the only Never Trumper she’d met she thought was funny and engaging. (Hmph. Many of us are.) But I finally said: “These things you think are happening aren’t really happening.” /9
She said, out of nowhere: “Well, I supported Obama. But I couldn’t vote for Hillary.” I said: “That’s irrelevant to what’s happening now, isn’t it?” She then launched into the Hillary Crimes Litany. I said, again: But that’s not relevant *now*. We then parted amicably. /10
My point? These two people will never, ever change their minds. They are not accessible to reason. They demand agreement and respect, even when they don’t give it and are themselves unreasonable. This is the cohort that neither the GOP post-Trump nor Dems will ever reach. /10
I think it solidified for me that these types of Trumpers are just lost. They’re not going to climb down, change their minds, listen to new information. Trump really could shoot them on Fifth Avenue. There’s no point in discussion, because they don’t *discuss*, they *preach*. /13
This is who they are. And, yes, they should forever be judged by their vote for Dolt45, which proved THEIR LACK OF CHARACTER.
(I want to thank Kay from Balloon Juice, who was the first person to encapsulate the reason for my contempt for Dolt45 voters. Ever since I read her explanation, it clicked for me, and I never forgot it.)
Some Democrats don’t get it. But, others do.
Others like Stacey Abrams GET IT!!
.@staceyabrams: “I’m not going to spend a disproportionate share of our resources trying to convert Republican-leaning voters when we can invest in lifting up the voices of those who share our values.” https://t.co/hxOT4zUTTl
— Sarah Lerner (@SarahLerner) July 24, 2018
EXACTLY, MS. ABRAMS.
GET OUT DEMOCRATIC VOTERS.
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