In all the sadness and horror of the Trump administration’s crackdown on border crossings, more than 4,500 complaints about sexual abuse of the immigrant children captured at our southern border have emerged.
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement has now brought out reports showing that nearly 20 percent of those sexual abuse complaints arose during the five months from last March to July when news accounts showed captive children bunched together under shiny aluminum blankets in cages that amounted to wire dog kennels.
Trump’s cruel policy of family separations during those months resulted in more than 2,700 children being separated from their parents under his “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting anyone caught crossing the border illegally, including those with families seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds.
More specific reports from the federal Department of Health and Human Services have revealed that thousands more were taken during Trump’s first year in office. The reports of child abuse cover that period, plus the previous two years. For most of the four years, the number of child abuse charges stayed about the same from month to month, but the number of child abuse charges rose dramatically after the Trump administration enacted its family-separation policy.
The reports of child abuse detail charges that adult staff members in more than 20 detention centers had harassed and assaulted children, including fondling and kissing them, watching them as they showered and raping them.
The Justice Department handled 1,303 cases that its lawyers considered the most serious, including 178 charges that adult staff members in the government-funded detention centers had sexually assaulted children in their care; the rest were charges of minors assaulting other children.
The Trump administration has dragged its feet by waiting until the last moment before giving out this information.
It buried the statistics about the child-abuse complaints in a ton of documents it reluctantly gave the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week, making them available only the night before the committee began its first hearing into what has been called the “government kidnapping” of immigrant children at the Mexican border.
Congressman Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said it took the administration six weeks to answer his committee’s questions, adding, “That is absolutely inexcusable.”
The House Oversight and Reform Committee is also examining what happened to the children that the Trump administration took from their parents, issuing formal subpoenas to three Trump cabinet officials in departments responsible for the policy of separating migrant families at the border.
The subpoenas went to Trump’s new attorney general William Bar, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Committee members first asked for the information they wanted last July.
“When our own government rips vulnerable children, toddlers and even infants from the arms of their mothers and fathers with no plan to reunite them, that is government-sponsored child abuse,” said committee chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. “It’s our job to step in and protect those children. Further delay is not an option.”
The wheels of time grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.