President Barack Obama’s immigration agency allowed migrant youths as young as 14 to be abused, tied up, left naked in solitary confinement, and denied health treatment at a juvenile detention center in Virginia in 2015 and 2016, says a lawsuit filed on behalf of a Latino migrant.
The lawsuit was settled in January, according to the Associated Press, which does not describe the settlement but does say that officials at Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC) in Staunton, Virginia, denied the claims.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of plaintiff John Doe states:
Doe and other similarly situated young people in SVJC are subject to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and denial of necessary mental health care. As a result, Doe has engaged in significant and continuous self-harm, to which SVJC staff and counselors have responded with callous indifference.
These violations reflects a disorganized, untrained and understaffed facility that house immigrant children in brutal, inhumane conditions.
AP reported on sworn statements of jailed teens, including charges that guards stripped off their clothes and strapped them to chairs and placed bags over their heads.
“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility at 15, said in the AP report. “Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move. … They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”
“If you are behaving bad, resisting the staff when they try to remove you from the program, they will take everything in your room away — your mattress, blanket, everything,” a16-year old Latino immigrant detained at the center said in the AP report.
“They will also take your clothes. Then they will leave you locked in there for a while,” he said. “This has happened to me, and I know it has happened to other kids, too.”
A 15-year-old Mexican held at the detention center for nine months said in his sworn statement he was restrained with a bag over his head.
“They handcuffed me and put a white bag of some kind over my head,” he said. “They took off all of my clothes and put me into a restraint chair, where they attached my hands and feet to the chair. They also put a strap across my chest. They left me naked and attached to that chair for two and a half days, including at night.”
In addition to the children’s first-hand, translated accounts in court filings, a former child-development specialist who worked inside the facility independently told The Associated Press this week that she saw kids there with bruises and broken bones they blamed on guards. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to publicly discuss the children’s cases.
The AP did admit that some of the youths detained in Virginia were suspected to be MS-13 gang members and had received “secure placement” because of violent behavior.
The AP report does not mention Obama or any of his cabinet, but repeatedly suggests a link to President Donald Trump.
“Many of the children were sent there after U.S. immigration authorities accused them of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13,” AP reported, and added, “President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited gang activity as justification for his crackdown on illegal immigration.”
Most children held in the Shenandoah facility who were the focus of the abuse lawsuit were caught crossing the border illegally alone. They were not the children who have been separated from their families under the Trump administration’s recent policy and are now in the government’s care. But the facility there operates under the same program run by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.
It was not immediately clear whether any separated children have been sent to Shenandoah Valley since the Trump administration in April announced its “zero tolerance” policy toward immigrant families after the lawsuit was filed.
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