Durbin Calls For HHS OIG Investigation & ORR Action On Recent Report Concerning Afghan Refugee Children Being Cared For At Shelter In Illinois
Durbin’s action follows disturbing ProPublica report that details allegations of a mental health crisis among these children—including cases of young children hurting themselves, harming others, or having suicidal ideations
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) calling on these offices to immediately address allegations included in a disturbing ProPublica report concerning Afghan refugee children being cared for at a Heartland Alliance shelter in Bronzeville, Illinois. The report details allegations of a mental health crisis among these children—including cases of young children hurting themselves, harming others, or having suicidal ideations. The report also includes allegations of an ill-equipped and overwhelmed staff, as well as minimal support from ORR.
“As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have oversight responsibilities for the immigration-related functions of ORR, including the treatment of unaccompanied minors. The ProPublica report raises serious and troubling allegations about the health and safety of children in an ORR-supported facility. As such, I request that ORR take immediate steps to ensure that the children at the Bronzeville center are receiving the support they need, including by providing appropriate interpreters on site. I also request an immediate briefing for my staff on the situation at Bronzeville and the steps ORR is taking in response to these allegations,” Durbin wrote in the letter to Cindy Huang, Director of ORR. Durbin also requested that Christi Grimm, HHS Principal Deputy Inspector General, open an investigation into the welfare of Afghan children and teens placed in shelters nationwide by ORR, including the Bronzeville shelter.
Since August, more than 900 Afghan children have entered the United States as unaccompanied minors. The vast majority of these children have been reunited with vetted family members but, reportedly, approximately 200 remain in the care of ORR—including at the shelter in Bronzeville that is at the center of the ProPublica report.
According to ProPublica, Chicago police have been summoned to the Bronzeville center dozens of times over the past month, including for cases involving emergency medical services, suicide attempts or threats, batteries and assaults, and mental health disturbances. According to the report, some of these incidents have escalated due to a lack of culturally-sensitive support, including appropriate translators and interpreters, and/or have been exacerbated by long stays and a lack of appropriate psychosocial mental-health services for these children—many of whom are dealing with significant trauma.
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