Dozens of congressional Democrats asked federal health officials Monday to take extra steps to protect gay illegal immigrant children from abuse while they’re in custody, including ensuring that transgender children are housed with the sex they identify as.
Saying reports of mistreatment “continue to emerge” from federal facilities, the lawmakers asked the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to improve care for the tens of thousands of illegal immigrant children who streamed across the border over the last year, and who are still coming, though in smaller numbers.
“We request ORR to work with providers to ensure that LGBT unaccompanied minors receive affirming and culturally competent care, that placement and housing assignments for transgender youth are consistent with their gender identity, and that appropriate preventative measures and response systems are in place to address incidents of sexual assault as mandated by law,” said the lawmakers, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva, Arizona Democrat.
The Democrats said ORR is delinquent on writing new rules that would apply prison rape standards to the 100 or so facilities the agency has contracted to house illegal immigrant children.
A spokesman for the agency didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.
The lawmakers didn’t list any specific instances of abuse nor give statistics about the rate of illegal immigrant children who identify as other than heterosexual that are being held in federal facilities.
Instead, they pointed to statistics that estimated nearly one in five children in foster care and 15 percent of children in the juvenile justice system are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Those children are twice as likely to be victimized, the Bureau of Justice Statistics said in a 2009 report the lawmakers cited.
It’s unclear whether the illegal immigrant children being held by the federal government are analogous to the U.S. juvenile population.
The Obama administration says that under its interpretation of federal law, illegal immigrant children from countries other than Canada or Mexico caught at the border are to be processed by immigration agents and then turned over the HHS, which is to care for them while they await a judge’s decision on whether to deport them.
Nearly 70,000 children traveling without their parents crossed the border in fiscal year 2014, which ran from Oct. 1, 2013, through Sept. 30, 2014. The peak came in May and June, when 10,000 children a month crossed.
The rate has dropped since then, to slightly more than 2,600 in November, according to the latest statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.