- The Washington Times - Friday, December 19, 2014

Health and Human Services released long overdue guidelines Friday ordering facilities that house illegal immigrant children to set up sexual abuse prevention programs, and to be prepared to deal with tricky cases such as transgender or intersex children.

The rules, which congressional Democrats had demanded earlier this week, govern everything from pat-downs to evaluating each child for their likely risk of being targeted for sexual abuse or harassment, and govern how the children should be housed while at the private facilities, which operate under a government contract.

The goal is to bring the 100 or so facilities that house the children into compliance with federal prison standards — though the unaccompanied children present a host of unique circumstances, given educational, cultural and language barriers and the fact that the population is, by definition, under 18 years of age.

HHS said the facilities must be prepared to investigate abuse allegations, must put all employees who come in contact with children through thorough background checks, and need to take special care in cases where children have “any gender nonconforming appearance or manner or identification as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or intersex.”

In the case of transgender children, the guidelines instruct the facilities to ask the children which sex they identify as, and to take that into consideration when deciding whom to house them with.

That had been a particular request of the Democratic lawmakers.

“We’re talking about protecting kids who are being specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat who spearheaded a letter to HHS earlier this week demanding they finalize their rules. “LGBT youths must receive affirming and culturally competent care. They deserve the dignity of housing assignments consistent with their gender identity, and adequate preventative and response measures to keep them safe from harm.”

HHS rushed the rule into place, cutting corners on the usual regulatory comment and review process, arguing it was urgent to get the standards done.

“Based on HHS’ determination that a delay of these rules would be contrary to the public interest, HHS finds good cause to waive the notice of proposed rulemaking and to issue this final rule on an interim basis,” the department said.

The rules gave the facilities until June 24 to comply, but urged them to try to do so earlier.

HHS said it generally discourages pat-downs for the children, but if they are necessary they must be done under strict rules and the reason for each pat-down must be documented and submitted to the government for review.

It’s unclear how much of a problem sexual abuse is in the facilities housing the illegal immigrant children, tens of thousands of whom surged across the border this year.

Mr. Grijalva said in his letter that it is a problem, particularly for gay children in juvenile corrections facilities, and said there were increasing reports of it being a problem in the facilities housing the illegal immigrant children.

But HHS didn’t release any data on complaints or prevalence of abuse.

Mr. Grijalva’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the new rules.

The Houston Chronicle reported earlier this year that 101 “significant” incidents involving allegations of abuse by staff at facilities were reported between March 2011 and March 2013, but nobody has been prosecuted under a 2008 law that makes sexual contact with a detainee a felony.

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