Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin says the United States is investigating allegations of abuse at a Chicago facility that houses children separated from their parents at the Mexican border.
Claims of physical and emotional abuse at Casa Guadalupe, a facility run by the nonprofit Heartland Alliance, appeared in a report in the Washington Post on Sunday.
The report comes amid a heated debate on family separation and what effects it will have on children. In the newspaper’s report, several children released from the facility shared details on how they were treated, giving a rare inside look at the shelters.
Boy says he was denied medical care
In one example, the children alleged they were told there were hidden cameras everywhere recording bad behavior, which made them terrified of making mistakes.
One 11-year-old boy from Guatemala said he had to get permission to hug his 9-year-old sister, who lived at the facility – but at a different house. The employees constantly told them “no touch, no touch,” he told the paper.
Another boy, 9, from Brazil, said employees at the facility told him if he woke up late, he’d stay there until he was 18. He said he saw a 5-year-old boy injected with something that made him sleep at his desk, and was scared he’d be injected, too.
One boy told the newspaper he was denied medical care after breaking his arm.
Multiple investigations launched
In a letter to the Heartland Alliance’s vice president, Durbin said the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General is investigating the allegations at his request. The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the agency responsible for the shelters.
“The article includes on-the-record accounts from numerous children, including some as young as 9 years old, who are alleging physical and emotional abuse while in the care of Heartland,” Durbin wrote in the letter to David Sinki.
He asked Sinki to notify him “as soon as possible” whether the accounts are accurate, what steps Heartland will take to hold the employees involved accountable, along with how the facility will ensure it does not happen again.
“Children separated from their families at our Southern border as a result of President Trump’s unlawful and heartless policy have already endured far more trauma than any child should ever be forced to endure,” he wrote.
“Every effort must be made to ensure that …. these children are compassionately cared for – both physically and emotionally.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services also confirmed the agency is investigating Heartland Alliance in Chicago for allegations of abuse and child neglect.
In a statement, Heartland Alliance said it’s investigating the allegations, and described them as disturbing and not reflective of the company’s values.
Chicago Mayor blames Trump policy
“We immediately initiated an investigation upon learning of these allegations over the weekend, and we welcome Senator Durbin’s call for an investigation of our programs from the Office of Inspector General. If any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger or did not follow protocols, we will immediately remove them from their duties,” the alliance said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that the investigation ultimately comes back to the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
“I know that there’s going to be an investigation to look into this,” he said. “But I don’t want to lose sight that we would not be in this situation if President Trump had not instituted what is, quote unquote, the ‘zero tolerance policy.’ You would not be asking this question.”
CNN’s Marlena Baldacci and Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.