WASHINGTON – During a Senate Finance Committee hearing with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) pressed for more answers on an Associated Press report alleging physical and psychological abuse of immigrant children at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center (SVJC) near Staunton, Va.
Immediately following press reports regarding SVJC, Sen. Warner joined Sen. Kaine in sending a letter to Acting Assistant Secretary Steven Wagner for the Administration for Children and Families under HHS, asking for clarification and additional information from the agency on the accusations against the facility’s personnel. They still have not received a response to that letter.
“Secretary Azar, today’s hearing is about drug pricing, but first I want to address – as my colleagues have – the ongoing crisis we are dealing with at our nation's border. The Department of Health and Human Services has contracted facilities to house thousands of unaccompanied minors – including one in my state, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center near Staunton, Virginia – where there have been very disturbing reports of abuse and lawsuits filed as a result of those accusations. Sen. Kaine and I have sent your agency multiple letters requesting more information on the issue and my hope would be that we can get those responses and I’m anxious to know if you are able to comment on any of the accusations of the center in Staunton,” pressed Sen. Warner during the hearing.
“With reports of minors being put in solitary confinement for 23 hours of a 24 hour day or being restrained in chairs – without any clothing and with bags over their heads – all practices that are inhumane and worthy of a great deal of review – and understanding that you will not be able to speak to specifics in regard to what happened in Staunton, what level of training does the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) put in place for guards at these contracted facilities? If in fact that it shows that these actions did take place, I would hope that we can put training in place that can sanction these types of behavior,” added Sen. Warner.
During the hearing, Sec. Azar did not address the validity of the allegations but offered to provide Sen. Warner answers on the care of migrant children under HHS. HHS is tasked with caring for unaccompanied immigrant children after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) apprehends them at the U.S. border. It is also the responsibility of HHS to conduct oversight of facilities federally contracted to house detained children to ensure the safety and well-being of children under their care.