When migrant children enter the United States to seek asylum without their parents, they go into the care of shelters contracted by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That agency is supposed to protect the children from harm. But an investigation from the nonprofit news organization, Reveal, found how a call to the police to help discipline children at these federally contracted facilities can do more harm than good.
One example is a 16-year-old asylum-seeker at a San Antonio-area Southwest Key shelter in May 2020. This shelter was his fifth shelter in nine months, and on that day he didn’t want to go to school.
“We obtained bodycam footage of a sheriff’s deputy from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office,” said Laura Morel, who co-reported the story with Aura Bogado. “The 16-year-old boy had allegedly damaged a couple of bed frames and some plastic storage bins. He didn’t want to go to class that day. And so they called the sheriff’s office and when the deputy arrives, his name is Patrick Divers.”
Morel says the footage shows Divers never asked to see evidence of the damage, or for one of the shelter workers to translate what he was saying to the boy. He was told that the child spoke very little English. The boy was sitting alone in the bathroom with the door open when Divers arrived, and a few moments later when his partner arrived.
“[Divers] says on the footage, ‘I’m going to tase this kid.’ And so shelter staff move, and he talks to the boy in English,” Morel says. “And so he shoots the boy with the taser for about 35 seconds. And then afterwards, the boy is handcuffed by a second deputy and he’s escorted to a squad car. And we know that he was arrested on a charge of criminal mischief.”
These police encounters, according to the records Reveal obtained, have happened more than once at these shelters.
“Over the last six years … shelters have discharged at least 84 children from ages 11 to 17 to local law enforcement. From those 84 children, we obtained police and court records for 19 of the cases through public records requests, police departments, sheriff’s offices, [district attorney]’s offices.”
Morel says the documents show many of the children were turned over for arrest after they allegedly got into fights, possibly damaged property or in some cases were struggling with their mental health. And most of them were processed for misdemeanors.
Morel says Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has launched an internal affairs investigation. And Since Reveal’s reporting was published, Morel has learned that deputy Divers has been placed on administrative leave.