Virginia’s governor ordered state officials on Thursday to investigate abuse claims by children at an immigration detention facility.
Governor Ralph Northam announced the probe in a tweet hours after the reported allegations.
Immigrant children as young as 14 housed at a juvenile detention centre in the US state of Virginia say they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in a concrete cell, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).
The report also cited an adult who saw bruises and broken bones the children said were caused by guards.
“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15.
“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.”
The abuse claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center near Staunton, Virginia, are detailed in federal court filings that include a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino teens jailed there for months or years.
Northam said the allegations were disturbing and directed the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security and the Department of Juvenile Justice to report back to him “to ensure the safety of every child being held there.”
Many of the children were sent there after US immigration authorities accused them of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited gang activity as justification for his crackdown on illegal immigration.
Our border patrol agents and our ICE agents have done one great job cracking down on MS-13 gang members. We're throwing them out by the thousands
Trump Wednesday – in a stunning about-face – moved to end the practice of splitting migrant families after they cross into the US from Mexico, signed an executive order that would keep families together after they get detained crossing the border illegally.
“We’re going to have very strong borders but we are going to keep families together,” the president said, adding that he doesn’t like seeing children separated from their families.
The Shenandoah lockup is one of only three juvenile detention facilities in the United States with federal contracts to provide “secure placement” for children who had problems at less-restrictive housing..
The Shenandoah detention centre was built by a coalition of seven nearby towns and counties to lock up local kids charged with serious crimes. Since 2007, about half the 58 beds are occupied by both male and female immigrants between the ages of 12 and 17 facing deportation proceedings or awaiting rulings on asylum claims.
Though held in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not yet been convicted of any crime.
Virginia ranks among the worst states in the nation for wait times in federal immigration courts, with an average of 806 days before a ruling. Nationally, only about half of juveniles facing deportation are represented by a lawyer, according to Justice Department data.
On average, 92 immigrant children each year cycle through Shenandoah, most of them from Mexico and Central America.
The other two facilities are Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in California and the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Centre.