- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) - Dozens of Democratic lawmakers demanded explanations Tuesday from the Department of Health and Human Services after charges that immigrant teenagers were handcuffed and beaten in federal custody.

Seventy-seven House members signed a letter from Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia seeking answers about allegations of abuses reported by The Associated Press and other news organizations.

Sworn statements from six Latino teens described incidents from 2015 to 2018 under the Obama and Trump administrations at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Virginia. The center said allegations of minors handcuffed, shackled and beaten by guards were unfounded.

“Abuse of children is never acceptable and we are concerned that these immigrant children … are falling prey to neglect and intentional harm,” the lawmakers wrote. They asked for an accounting of how the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement is responding to the allegations, and what steps the government has taken to oversee the contractor that operates the Virginia facility and others where advocates and lawyers have alleged abuses in recent news reports.

“We are concerned that ORR … is failing to protect the health of these children and is actively working in ways that harm children,” the lawmakers wrote.

The Trump administration has said it takes its responsibility to care for immigrant teens seriously, but officials have refused to discuss specifics.

The Virginia facility is one of only three detention centers in the U.S. with federal contracts to provide “secure placement” for migrant children who had problems in less-restrictive housing. Some teens held there described long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells. Some said they were strapped to chairs with hoods placed over their heads.

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered an investigation. Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are also demanding answers from HHS.

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