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Durbin calls for probe of abuse claims at Chicago shelter for separated children

Evelyn Diaz, president of Heartland Alliance, looks on as U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin holds a news conference at GirlForward after meeting children detained in Chicago as part of the Trump administration's decision to separate children from their immigrant parents, Friday morning, June 22, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on Tuesday called for an investigation into allegations of abuse at the Chicago social-services facility where children have been sheltered after being separated from their parents at the Mexican border.

The claims of physical and emotional abuse at Casa Guadalupe, run by the nonprofit Heartland Alliance, surfaced in a Monday report in the Washington Post.

In the article, children said they were monitored by hidden cameras and prohibited from hugging siblings, and two boys claimed “they saw a troubled 5-year-old boy repeatedly injected with something that made him fall asleep at his desk,” the Post reported.

“I am distressed at the allegations made by children in The Washington Post article and request that you notify me as soon as possible whether these accounts are accurate, what steps Heartland will take to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable, and how Heartland will work to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” Durbin wrote in an open letter to Heartland Alliance Director David Sinski. “Children separated from their families at our Southern border as a result of President Trump’s unlawful and heartless policy have already endured far more trauma than any child should ever be forced to endure.”

Heartland spokeswoman Mailee Garcia called the allegations “disturbing as they do not reflect our values or the quality of care we strive to provide.

“We immediately initiated an investigation upon learning of these allegations over the weekend, and we welcome Senator Durbin’s call for an investigation of our programs from the Office of Inspector General,” Garcia said in a statement. “If any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger or did not follow protocols, we will immediately remove them from their duties.”

Video by Ashlee Rezin | U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin holds a news conference at GirlForward after meeting children detained in Chicago

Addressing the claim of a boy being injected, Garcia said it “is not our practice to ever use injections for behavior management — our staff are well-trained in handling childcare and emotional issues.”

Since October, federal authorities have separated roughly 3,500 children from their parents at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s recently rescinded zero-tolerance immigration policy. During a trip in late June, Durbin said 66 children were being held in Chicago, with two-thirds of them under 13, and a third of the entire group 5 or younger.

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