Immigrant Children Allege Abuse While in Detention Centers

A recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services details more than 4,500 complaints of sexual assault on unaccompanied minors held in detention centers between 2014 and 2018. While a vast majority of the alleged abuse was committed by other detainees, 178 of these complaints involved staff responsible for the care of these children.

In early 2018, immigration officials began a policy of separating children from their parents if the family had illegally crossed the border into the United States. Some of these families had first attempted to apply for asylum at a border crossing, but were denied asylum. Thousands of children were cruelly separated from their parents, and many of them have not been reunited because government officials had no policy in place to track the children after they were separated.

Officials denied systematic abuse and said that many of the allegations had proved false.

These denials are meaningless coming from officials who denied the policy in the first place and then misrepresented the number of children separated from parents. Some of this abuse likely occurred at detention centers located in California.

Children without parents present are especially vulnerable to abuse. Whether they are children in an after-school or church program, foster care, or detention center. In these cases, the children have either traveled alone or been separated from their parents by the US government which puts them at high risk for abuse.

The problem has been made worse by the lack of oversight. Many children have been lost in the system and state officials have been forced to fight legally for access to detention centers and group homes to provide oversight. California legislators are trying to change this with Assembly Bill 163 which requires that anyone caring for immigrant youth accurately report the number of children in their care as well as length of time in care and arrange for the children to have access to legal aid groups. It also requires local child welfare representatives to oversee the children and provide mental health care as needed.

While there is no legal right to an attorney in immigration courts, even if the person is a minor, there are many charities who provide legal services for immigrants in need:

Esperanza Immigrant Law Center provides community education and direct legal representation to unaccompanied children in the Los Angeles Immigration Court’s jurisdiction and to those in local shelters awaiting reunification with sponsors around the country. 

Immigrant Defenders Law Center provides representation and pro bonoplacement (referrals for free representation by outside attorneys) for more than 500 children each year, including refugees, unaccompanied children and foster youth.

Kids In Need of Defense (KIND) connects lawyers willing to give free representation with children in need and provides support to lawyers unfamiliar with defending children in immigrant court.

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) provides many legal services for immigrants including asylum applications defense in immigration court, and citizenship applications.

Carecen represents immigrant children as they apply for asylum or special immigrant juvenile status.

Abused children and their parents should consult with an attorney to explore their legal options. Abuse can’t be erased, but legal action can help in a variety of ways: to hold the abuser and enablers responsible, to prevent the abuse from happening again to another vulnerable person, and to compensate the victim for their emotional damage. Victims may experience mental anguish, physical impairment, loss of enjoyment of life, grief, anxiety, and humiliation.

Children are often subjected to abuse when they are vulnerable because they lack a strong parental figure. When the government chose to separate children from their parents entirely, it was predictable that abuse would occur.

Our law firm has extensive obtaining justice for children who were abused as a result of government incompetence or misconduct.  If a child you know was abused while in a detention center, please contact our office for a free case evaluation.

Further Reading:

We represented a young girl who was raped repeatedly by her mother’s boyfriend and later became pregnant at age 13. Child protective services failed to remove her from the home despite several reports of abuse.

We represented a toddler who was left in the care of her mentally ill mother. She suffered severe neglect, including living in an apartment with her deceased newborn sister, because child protective services ignored multiple reports of abuse.