California's senior U.S. senator joined with her Republican counterpart on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday to call for an investigation into years of alleged abuses at immigration detention facilities overseen by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In a letter to the inspectors general of both offices, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Iowa Republican Charles Grassley wrote that the "serious and disturbing allegations of physical and sexual abuse of detainees by guards and other staff" at ICE and HHS facilities "demonstrate a long-term pattern of abuse warranting a thorough investigation into the claims, including the process and procedure by which any guards or contracted staff are hired, trained, and vetted."
They cited a recent New York Times story, as well as several other recent media reports. And the senators -- chairman Grassley and ranking member Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- wrote that the issue should not be viewed as partisan because some of the allegations date back to the Obama administration.
The letter details a number of disturbing allegations, including a 19-year-old woman who was seeking asylum and said she felt compelled to engage in sexual acts with a guard because he threatened her with deportation; and a caseworker for a migrant facility who was convicted of felony sexual abuse after inappropriately touching a 15-year-old boy.
The senators also noted ICE has reported 1,310 claims of sexual abuse against detainees from 2013 to 2017.
"Similarly, recent press reports have also revealed allegations of abuse of children in HHS-contracted facilities. One report describes a Virginia juvenile detention center where immigrant children were routinely handcuffed, placed in solitary confinement, and left 'nude and shivering' in concrete cells," the letter states.
"Worse still, lawsuits filed by immigrant children indicate that at least some forms of abuse at this facility had been occurring since 2016, with no clear action taken by either the grantee or HHS to end these practices. These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed. ... Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse."
The call for an investigation came one day before Grassley and Feinstein presided over a hearing examining the government's efforts to reunite more than 2,500 children who were separated from their families earlier this year under President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy.