The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked federal investigators late Monday to examine allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of immigrants held at government detention facilities, saying that the mistreatment may have been occurring since 2014 or earlier.
With President Donald Trump already under fire for separating thousands of migrant children from their detained parents, the request for an investigation by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., elevated yet another issue to the administration’s list of immigration problems.
“These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed,” Grassley and Feinstein wrote. “This is not a partisan issue as reporting suggests many have been occurring for years. Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse.”
The letter says the allegations suggest “a long-term pattern” of mistreatment and is based on articles by The Associated Press and other news organizations. Those reports describe claims of abuse over the last few years, including recently.
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on the Trump administration’s separating of thousands of migrant children from parents detained entering the U.S. without authorization. Trump abandoned that policy after he came under intense bipartisan criticism, but hundreds of children remain apart from their families, including more than 400 whose parents have been deported without them.
The senators want the inspectors general for the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to investigate the abuse allegations immediately and to release any previous investigations into the charges. They also want the investigators to study “the adequacy of policies and procedures” used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a branch of Homeland Security, and by Health and Human Services to prevent abuse.
The AP reported last month that children held at an immigration detention facility in Virginia said they were beaten while handcuffed, locked in solitary confinement and left nude and cold in concrete cells.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw commended the Trump administration for reuniting parents in its custody with their children while faulting it for leaving hundreds of families still apart and warning that a better system must be in place. Trump seized on the praise, tweeting Monday that “a highly respected Federal judge” had said that the “’Trump Administration gets great credit’ for reuniting illegal families. Thank you, and please look at the previous administrations’ record – not good!”