Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on Tuesday got in a contentious exchange with the head of the so-called “unaccompanied alien children” (UAC) program at the Department of Health and Human Services about the dozens of sexual abuse allegations made in recent years against the HHS contractors who house those children.
“Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children,” Deutch said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing that included Jonathan White, deputy director for children’s program’s at HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The UAC program took custody of children who were separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s since-discontinued policy of systematic family separation. The program continues to house children who arrive at the border unaccompanied, or who are separated from their families for welfare or other concerns.
“These documents demonstrate over the past three years there have been 154 staff-on-unaccompanied-minor — let me repeat that, staff-on-unaccompanied-minor — allegations of sexual assault,” Deutch said. “This works out, on average, to one sexual assault by HHS staff on an unaccompanied minor, per week.”
White took exception to Deutch’s statement, saying the accused were not technically HHS staff. (The government contracts out UAC childcare services to privately run and nonprofit shelters.)
Deutch granted that the allegations were made against “the people that HHS staff oversees. I will make that clarification. It doesn’t make what happened any less horrific.”
Documents released by Deutch’s office Tuesday, the result of a document request to HHS, show 154 “staff-on-minor” allegations of sexual assault reported to the Department of Justice over the past three years. Many more allegations were reported to HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, but those were not sorted by allegations made against staff, unaccompanied children or others in the documents.
White stands out as a rare Trump administration official who claims to have warned others ahead of the family separation policy’s implementation. “Neither I nor any career person in [HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement] would ever have supported such a policy proposal,” he said during a separate hearing earlier this month.
The HHS official said Tuesday that “this is a longer conversation” and reiterated: “In every conversation that we had about separation, we opposed separation.”
Separately on Tuesday, the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena Trump administration officials for documents related to the family separation policy.