Virginia Governor Opens Probe into Abuse Allegations at Immigrant-Detention Facility

Ralph Northam at a campaign stop in Richmond, Va., in October. (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)

Virginia governor Ralph Northam has ordered a state investigation into allegations that immigrant teenagers were physically and mentally abused at a detention facility in the state.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that detainees as young as 14 had alleged horrifying abuse by guards at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, about 150 miles southwest of Washington, D.C., starting in 2015. The teenagers said they were stripped naked, strapped to chairs, handcuffed, and had bags placed over their heads. They also recounted being punished with long periods of solitary confinement for minor infractions, and enduring racial epithets and taunts from guards.

“If Virginia public safety officials find evidence of abuse or mistreatment at this facility, my administration will do everything we can to ensure the safety of these children,” Northam wrote on Twitter.

The teenagers were suspected by U.S. immigration authorities of belonging to gangs, but many did not seem to be gang members, according to statements made to Congress by a program director at the facility.

A child-development specialist who formerly worked at Shenandoah lent credence to the detainees’ stories with her own recollection of the terrifying conditions in the facility. She told the AP that the teenagers were bruised from physical confrontations, one had his foot was broken by a guard, and many ended up with serious psychological issues because of the abuse.

The young immigrants “are subjected to unconstitutional conditions that shock the conscience, including violence by staff, abusive and excessive use of seclusion and restraints, and the denial of necessary mental health care,” a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs against Shenandoah states.

Lawyers for the facility deny all the accusations.

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