José Nuñez (age 47) was arrested for the “super aggravated sexual assault” of a 4-year-old girl whose mother is an undocumented immigrant. Nuñez threatened to report the woman to immigration authorities if she filed a complaint about the incident. The arrest took place only after the woman finally sought medical help for her daughter. According to Sheriff Javier Salazar, the sexual abuse may have been going on for years – and Nuñez’ young victim may not be the only one.
Sheriff Salazar told NBC News, “I don't know that he was purposely targeting the undocumented community,” but added, “What was appealing was the vulnerability of that community because they are less apt to report things.”
While this seems to be an isolated incident, the fact is that sexual abuse of immigrant women and children is far more common than is generally known. Furthermore, it has been going on for years.
This past April, The Intercept reported 1,200 complaints filed over a seven-year period, which they had obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Department of Homeland Security. These complaints include incidents of unwanted advances, fondling and groping, and rape by agents. Reports of sexual abuse by fellow detainees are generally ignored. The records obtained by The Intercept represent a small percentage of the total. In an earlier response, the DHS Office of the Inspector General reported receiving 33,000 complaints between 2010 and 2016.
The fact is that child abuse of all kinds, including sexual, physical and psychological, has been going on in detention centers along the Southwest border for a very long time. This information comes from over 30,000 pages of documentation obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) through an official request under the FOIA. The documents were provided by a division within the Department of Homeland Security, known as the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL). The CRCL is charged with “promoting respect for civil rights and civil liberties in policy creation and implementation” in addition to “investigating and resolving civil rights and civil liberties complaints filed by the public.”
The University of Chicago Law School’s Human Rights Clinic published a report last month, based on a summary of the documents obtained by the ACLU. These documents record a range of abuses suffered by unaccompanied migrant children at the hands of Customs and Border Patrol personnel, as well as failure on the part of the CRCL and the Office of the Inspector General to investigate and address the matter.
The problem extends well beyond detention facilities. This week, Public Radio International reported on an investigation which found that migrant children were being sent to shelters with long records of child neglect and abuse. These facilities, run by private, for-profit corporations, have received over $1.5 billion in federal funding – in some cases, even after incidents of abuse and neglect were discovered.
As has been the case with the Boy Scouts of America and the Roman Catholic and LDS Churches, the federal government is falling down on the job when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us. Taking children away from their parents for political reasons is reprehensible – deliberately putting them in harm's way is unforgivable.
“As ye reap, so shall ye sow.” We should not be surprised if the migrant children who survive these experiences become radicalized as they grow to adulthood. If we as citizens fail to hold our government accountable, we will suffer the consequences – possibly for a generation or more.