The unaccompanied children are housed in a labyrinthine network of more than 90 state-licensed shelters, foster homes and detention centers that the government describes as “safe havens”.
The system has repeatedly failed to hold abusers accountable, despite a federal law that makes sexual contact with a detainee a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, the investigation found. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency responsible for the children’s care, has no specific system that tracks abuse allegations all the way through the investigative process â€” from outcry to outcome. […] for the first time, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Chronicle, the government has released copies of 101 “significant incident reports” from March 2011 to March 2013 involving abuse allegations against staff members.
The Chronicle reviewed thousands of pages of records from federal, state and law enforcement agencies in five states and interviewed officials, former shelter staff and residents. â€” Children and teenagers reported having sexual contact â€” ranging from kissing to unwanted touching to intercourse â€” with staff in Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois, the federal records show. â€” The Office of Refugee Resettlement relies on state childcare licensing and local police to investigate abuses of the children in its care, instead of notifying the FBI of serious allegations.
In the hands of local police and prosecutors, criminal cases have crumbled because of sloppy detective work, communication gaps with federal officials and jurisdictional confusion. â€” Youths in ORR custody in Texas were molested as they slept, sexually harassed and seduced by staff members during the past decade, records from state childcare licensing investigators and law enforcement show. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who authored the 2008 amendment that allows for federal prosecution of those who sexually abuse youths in ORR care, said in a statement that she was “extremely troubled” by the cases identified in the Chronicle’s investigation. In response to the Chronicle’s findings, she wrote a letter to the White House office reviewing ORR’s Prison Rape Elimination Act regulation, urging regulatory officials to swiftly enact the provision to better protect children.
Instead of entering immigration detention centers, youths are handed over to ORR, which houses the vast majority in state-licensed shelters and releases about 90 percent of them to relatives or other sponsors in the U.S. while their immigration cases are pending.
Dozens of workers were fired or disciplined in connection with sexual, physical and verbal abuses, maltreatment, inadequate supervision and inappropriate behavior and relationships. The FBI came out to investigate allegations that a 41-year-old worker named Belinda Leal had sexually abused a string of teenage boys detained in a shelter in Nixon. […] federal prosecutors determined they lacked jurisdiction to charge Leal under a federal law criminalizing sexual abuse of ward because it specifically applied to inmates in Department of Justice custody. A jury convicted the worker on six state charges and he served 14 months in prison, but several charges were overturned on appeal.
Since Congress tightened the federal law, ORR has not notified the FBI of any abuse allegations involving staff members, said Jallyn Sualog, director of the children’s program for ORR. Kelly Kleinvachter, a national FBI spokeswoman, did not respond to specific questions about whether the agency defers to local law enforcement or would investigate abuses within the federal shelter network if notified.
Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.sfgate.com