Duckworth says facilities for detained children ‘absolutely overwhelmed’

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CHICAGO — Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Monday toured a shelter for children who have been separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

"The staff there was absolutely overwhelmed by the Trump policy and simply not ready to handle the influx" of new children, Duckworth said.

The senator was only able to meet with unaccompanied minors, not children who were separated from their families.

Duckworth toured Casa Guadalupe, a facility run by Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit organization that has come under fire in recent weeks.

Heartland opened its first shelter 20 years ago. It now runs nine shelters in Chicago, housing up to 500 children at a time — including immigrant children who have been separated from their parents at the border. The organization said it typically houses children for 30 to 60 days while authorities work to find more permanent housing situations.

Duckworth said Casa Guadalupe seemed clean but reminded her of military barracks. The senator said she would not want her own children staying there, and that kids at the facility complained they were hungry and not being given much food after breakfast.

ProPublica Illinois reports at least 10 children have run away while in Heartland’s care in recent years. One child reported being injected with a sedative.

There also have been reports of inappropriate sexual activity between young children, and in at least one case, between a child and a staff member.

Heartland officials last week said they found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Duckworth said she wants uniform standards at all shelters housing detained children, and that it seemed like staffers at such facilities are making up policies as they go.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are now conducting their own investigations.

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