Virginia’s Child-Immigrant Non-Scandal

The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center

In the fall of 2017, three migrant children detained by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center filed a class action lawsuit alleging abuse by guards. This June, amidst national media coverage of the separation of children from parents on the U.S. border, news media discovered the lawsuit and reported on the allegations.

As I summarized the charges in a blog post: “Allegedly, teenagers were restrained, handcuffed, and made to sit with bags over their heads. Some were stripped of their clothes. Some were locked in solitary confinement, some beaten, left with bruises and broken bones and kept shivering in concrete cells.” I added: “The claims, if true, are shocking and must be addressed immediately.”

Well, the Northam administration promptly looked into the issue and has published its report. The findings? As I should have surmised from the hysterical, almost apocalyptic nature of the immigrant-children coverage by the national media, the state Department of Juvenile Justice “found that there was no evidence of abuse or neglect.”

DJJ staff interviewed all of the federal residents of SVJC. The team was unable to substantiate the conditions described in the lawsuit concerning the operations of SVJC or the mistreatment of residents. After obtaining permission from ORR, the team returned on June 25 and reviewed case files, medical files, room confinement forms, and other documentation to assess compliance with regulations relating to the quality of care.

The immigrant children held at SVJC aren’t toddlers separated from their parents. They are unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 with no parent or legal guardian in the U.S. Many have suffered trauma; some belong to gangs such as the infamous MS-13. Many display behavioral issues presenting disciplinary challenges.

One technique used by SVJC is “room confinement” to “ensure the safety and security of residents, staff, and the facility.” The DJJ found no incidents where residents were confined longer than 24 hours. With the exception of one 23-hour incident, confinements typically lasted four hours.

SVJC staff also used, though rarely, a “restraint chair” for out-of-control residents “who cannot be safely restrained by less intrusive methods. While in the chair, a mesh spit guard can be placed on the resident’s head to prevent spitting or biting.”

In sum, the center faced difficult conditions. “Young people who have been frequently exposed to high levels of trauma, who are separated from their families, and who confront numerous language and cultural barriers” comprise a “uniquely challenging group,” the DJJ report says. The center should provide staff with professional development “in the areas of positive youth development, cognitive behavioral interventions and trauma informed care” and should increase “understanding and sensitivity toward the unique cultural backgrounds of the youth in the federal program.” DJJ also recommended more training in the use of physical and mechanical restraints, and in the effective use of de-escalation techniques.

Bacon’s bottom line: In other words, while the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center could benefit from some tweaks, investigators found no real problem there. What this story highlights — although you’ll never see a mainstream media outlet framing the issue this way — is an endemic feature of illegal immigration. Many children are unaccompanied by parents or relatives. Many suffered trauma — not at the hands of Americans but of their fellow countrymen (or perhaps Mexicans, which many had to pass through to get to the U.S.). And many pose special behavioral problems requiring their confinement and costing U.S. taxpayers.

The national media is largely uninterested in such issues, of course, so I anticipate zero follow-up. If U.S. immigration policy cannot be blamed, there’s nothing worth writing about.

Here’s what I would like to know. Who were the children who made the allegations and had a suit filed in their name? More importantly, who were the attorneys filing the suit on their behalf? How did those attorneys gain access to the children? Are they just random lawyers off the streets of Staunton, or are they part of a nonprofit organization? If they were part of a nonprofit, what is that organization’s aims and who is funding it? Could there have been political motivations behind the lawsuits? None of that information, as I recall, was reported by the media. What a surprise.

Update: The state report has come under heavy criticism by the people who filed the original lawsuit, including  the Washington, D.C., law firm Wiley Rein and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, as well as the Henrico-based disAbility Law Center of Virginia. The Virginia Mercury has the story here. Unlike state investigators, the disAbility Law Center says it had unaccompanied access to the residents.

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13 responses to “Virginia’s Child-Immigrant Non-Scandal”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” The national media is largely uninterested in such issues, of course, so I anticipate zero follow-up.”

    If you boys don’t like the current “media” then why don’t you for your own “media” that WILL report all this stuff you claim is not reported or wrongly reported?

    Over and over – right-leaning ignorati blather incessantly about the “media” and it’s many failings but when when we see Alternative Media that does reporting ‘right’?


    by the way – if someone is saying there needs to be additional “training” – that’s often CYA talk …. notice there is no denial of the alleged abuses – instead there is denial of “abuse” then confirmation that some of the alleged actions were indeed carried out.

    But HEY – I’d LOVE to see the whiners bring their own Media to the party and stop whining… and walk the walk!

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Larry – the problem with the MSM is that they take the position that they are a neutral and professional business that reports the news. But they don’t generally. They tend to report one side of an issue, ignoring facts or developments that aren’t consistent with their view of the world.

    Let’s go back to the old days of newspapers when the paper styled itself as a Democratic Party newspaper or a Republican Party newspaper (or if you prefer, a liberal/progressive newspaper or a conservative newspaper). But if you claim to be an “independent newspaper,” as the WaPo proclaimed on its front page for years, then you should be reporting both sides of an issue. When claims from the left about “child abuse” are shown to be wrong, that gets put on the front page is a story showing the allegations were correct would be on the front page.

    If it were appropriate to chronicle the special favors Bob McDonnell received, it would be equally appropriate to chronicle the special favors Tim Kaine received. If it was in the public interest for the Post to expose Roy Moore’s sexual abuse, why didn’t the same Post expose Bill Clinton’s sexual abuse?

    While there are many good reporters, most of them have no ethical standards. An elected official taking gifts is wrong only when the recipient is from one party. If he/she is of the other party, the media suppresses the story. If sexual abuse is wrong, it’s wrong even when Slick Willie did it.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Or how about the ongoing sex abuse allegations against Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) who is running for state attorney general? I don’t expect to see the Post cover those the way they did for Roy Moore.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    TMT – It’s clear that you guys don’t trust the MSM. We don’t need to argue the reasons but he point is you can’t make them report the way you want them to.

    If you REALLY feel this way, why not totally abandon them and stop complaining about them?

    If there are a substantial number of you folks that feel this way – form your own media to report the way you want things reported.

    What I don’t get is if you don’t like or trust the MSM – why do you keep making the same complaints over and over instead of just rejecting them and moving on to what you want instead?

    It appears to me that when more than one media organization reports on something – and you guys don’t like what they are reporting – it becomes something like a “conspiracy” among the MSM… where they all are “lying” .. If you really feel that way – why keep reading their reports and complaining rather than supporting alternative media?

    1. It’s not a matter of abandoning the Mainstream Media, it’s a matter of illuminating how the MSM frames major narratives so readers don’t trust it blindly. My goal is to promote critical thinking.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    only if you have no other path forward and you want to keep looking back…

    ya’ll have no way to go forward … you just whine about what you don’t like and use it as an excuse to do nothing but complain.

    It’s hard to have a world where you classify all media you don’t like as MSM and ignore any media that reports different – and just keep bitching about media you don’t like.

    I never had any such issues. I do NOT believe the MSM …per se.. it has for as long as I can remember.. not reported facts from on high but neither does the right-wing media.

    You take it all with a grain of salt but when there is some level of concurrence – at some point -you have to decide what is the truth beyond your own biases… otherwise – everything is a conspiracy theory and you believe only what conforms to your own biases…

    you can’t blame others for your own lack of trying to find the truth or worse, wanting it spoon fed to you.. but you don’t like the taste of it.

  5. Perhaps we have read substantially different accounts of this. What I’ve read is that the investigation carefully avoided looking into the alleged conduct that so outraged Northam (and us). Here is an excerpt from today’s WaPo version (byline Michael Biesecker):

    “[A] top state regulator conceded in an interview that investigators did not attempt to determine whether serious allegations of past abuse at the locally run facility are true.

    “Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the review in June, hours after the AP published first-person accounts by children as young as 14 who said they were handcuffed, shackled and beaten at the facility. They also described being stripped of their clothes and locked in solitary confinement, sometimes strapped to chairs with bags over their heads.

    “The incidents are described in sworn statements from six Latino teens included in a class-action lawsuit filed in November and are alleged to have occurred from 2015 to 2018, under both the Obama and Trump administrations. The teens who made those initial complaints were subsequently transferred by federal authorities to other facilities or deported to their home countries.

    “Angela C. Valentine, the chief deputy director of the state juvenile justice agency, said Monday that investigators interviewed only the 22 who were being held at the facility in late June, following the AP’s report. She said the investigators were not permitted to review the case files or medical records of past detainees who say they were abused.

    “The legal advocacy group representing the Latino teens suing the facility called the state’s review “deeply flawed” and said the investigators never contacted them or asked to speak to their clients.

    “The children in this facility are denied necessary mental health care and subjected to abusive conditions,” said Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “We look forward to proving our case in court.”

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Acbar – why would you believe the WaPo version? Keep in mind that this is the same paper where the editorial board pressured a reporter, in clear violation of stated company policy, not to write critical things about then Governor Tim Kaine. This is the paper that wrote about the special favors received by McDonnell but not the ones received by Kaine. There’s little difference between the Washington Post and the German Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda.

      1. This is of course precisely THE problem these days: “trust who?” The MSM certainly has its problems with bias and with mixing facts and opinion, but it has not, in my experience, progressed to intentionally lying. That however is what some other media do — especially on-line blogs that make no pretense of abiding by journalistic standards of any sort (other than making money off sensation-seeking suckers who click for more).

        With the decline of journalism due to the loss of print advertising revenue, we desperately need more reporters out there covering, especially, the local news — as Jim B has often mentioned here. I read the WaPo with skepticism – especially the spin sections of an article near its headline — but after reading the whole article I usually find a more nuanced report of the facts — or else it becomes evident that the reporter did not have much to go on and is simply blathering. The bottom line is plainly this: where else can we find the facts? Yes I can call the elected officials to ask them directly. Yes I can read the Wash. Times and the McLean Gazette and the Falls Church paper. I do in fact usually scan the WSJ daily for a sanity check. But the WaPo is the baseline for reporting around here, and I don’t see how you can not read it either — biases notwithstanding. We desperately need the MSM, warts and all.

        1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

          It’s also what is not reported. The Post regularly spikes news that is inconsistent with its world view. Many times in this blog I’ve related the situation when about 10 years ago UVA did a study for VDOT that showed overweight trucks did more than $200 M in damage to roads and bridges but the permit fees recovered only a few million dollars. The story was reported around the state in newspapers, radio and TV but not in the Post, which did not mention it. I learned about the problem by reading a post on this blog. I searched the Internet and found numerous stories in other Virginia media. But nothing in the Post, which was on its usual kick to see higher taxes in Virginia.

          Later I happened to be at an event with Vienna Delegate Mark Keam. I told him about the problem and gave him all the information I had. He researched the issue more and introduced a bill that raised the overweight truck fees some – no where near enough – but an increase nonetheless. So the General Assembly thought the problem was worth addressing even though the Post wouldn’t report it. Is this a reason to trust the Post?

          It’s an election year. Tim Kaine, who has accepted all sorts of freebees like Bob McDonnell, is running for reelection. Yet there will be no series of stories on Kaine like we saw on McDonnell, who was not running for anything, or like the maccaca stories when George Allen was running for reelection.

          The Post received lots of kudos on the Roy Moore sex abuse articles even though he was running in Alabama. So will the Post make half the effort on Keith Ellison who is running for AG in Minnesota and has been accused of multiple cases of sex abuse? What could be the difference. A black Democrat who is a Muslim. If Alabama politics are appropriate for reporting so are Minnesota’s. If abusing women is wrong, it’s wrong whether a white man or a black man does it. Remember Hillary said, in cases of alleged sex abuse, the woman should be believed but only after she called the women who accused her husband of sex abuse “trailer trash.” The MSM has the same standards of consistency.

          The problem with the MSM is that behavior is wrong or right depending on the politics of the actor. Hell, the Post even endorsed Bill Clinton twice in the face of strong evidence he raped Juanita Broddrick. I guess they too thought she was trailer trash.

          Spiking news is not much different from lying intentionally from my perspective. What’s the difference between the Washington Post and Joseph Goebbels’ operation of the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda? He spiked all sorts of news. What’s the difference between the Post and some of slimy blogs on all sides of the political spectrum?

          Journalism needs to clean up its act and move back to reporting the news rather than advocating political views. A good media outlet should have both sides of the political spectrum angry most of the time.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    excellent commentary Acbar. thank you! And just to note – that nasty old MSM that cannot be trusted… DID provide info including quotes – and I saw no other non-MSM media that the anti-MSM folks might prefer ….

    It’s okay to say you don’t trust specific media but when you don’t trust virtually ANY media and characterize it all as MSM… and you have no other alternative sources of information – what does that really mean? At some point – for some folks ANY media becomes MSM and no reports are believable. It’s whatever blog or FB or right-wing conspiracy guy is saying.

    It’s pretty clear to me that something was/is going on and we’ve not got to the truth of it yet – and citing MSM reports as “proof” – the same MSM that is castigated for “lying”… at other times.. what can I say… it’ s nutty…

  7. djrippert Avatar

    From today’s headlines …

    Is this true or not? Is there a conspiracy among the MSM to rewrite history and try to credit Barak Obama with Trump’s economic successes? If so, isn’t this election meddling at least on a par with anything the Russians have been accused of doing?

  8. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    More evidence about the bias of the MSM, including the Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda. Media companies are trying to get the names and, then, the addresses of the jurors in the Manafort case. Fortunately, Judge Ellis, recognizing jurors were scared and afraid, refused to release the names.

    Could you imagine how the Goebbels Gang would react if someone went to court to get the addresses of editors or even reporters? An attempt to intimidate jurors or to allow others to do so should be beneath the media. But then attacking sexual abuse by powerful men while protecting Bill Clinton doesn’t seem to bother them.

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