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ProPublica Illinois @ProPublicaIL
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1/ We now have thousands of records that reveal what life is like inside the nine Chicago-area @HeartlandHelps shelters that house immigrant children and teens. One pattern is clear: The longer children are detained, the more they struggle.…
2/ Many of the children are already reeling from the trauma of rape, violence or other abuse suffered in their home countries or during their treks to the U.S.
3/ As caseworkers try to find family placements, Heartland employees control nearly every minute of children's days inside. Though children attend classes and play outside, they must walk in single-file lines and they usually can’t move about the buildings without permission.
4/ For some kids, life goes on like this for months. In July alone, 27 children in Chicago-area shelters had been held for 200 days or more. One 17-year-old from Honduras had been in custody for 598 days.
5/ Heartland officials said they have “virtually no control over how long children are with us,” and that only the federal government has the authority to approve the release of a child. Getting that approval has become more onerous in recent months, causing delays.
6/ Heartland points to new federal regulations to explain the delays: All members of a potential sponsor’s household must now be fingerprinted, and their information must now be shared with ICE.
7/ When the reunification process stalls, the impact on the child can be devastating. That’s especially true for children who were forcibly separated from their parents.
8/ Heartland said separated kids experience “despair, unhappiness, wanting to escape, and even suicidal thoughts. This has nothing to do with the shelter and everything to do with the trauma and horror these children have lived through.”
9/ Some other examples of how children suffer as they wait include:
10/ A 17-year-old from Guinea went on a hunger strike, telling shelter workers he refused to eat until he saw evidence they were trying to find him a home. He was released nearly nine months after being detained.
11/ A 10-month-old boy, forcibly separated from his father at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, was bitten repeatedly by an older child and later hospitalized after falling from a highchair. He was detained for at least five months.
12/ And a 16-year-old from Guatemala said he wanted to "quitarme la vida," or "take my life away," as he waited to be released. He spent at least 584 days in Heartland custody.
13/ That teenager had arrived at the shelter traumatized. He told Heartland staff he came to the U.S. in early 2015 to flee violence in Guatemala, where he said he had been shot at twice and extorted by a gang.
14/ As months passed, he talked about suicide, running away and hearing voices. More than a year later, documents note he became upset after receiving an update from his caseworker about the effort to place him with a sponsor. He punched a door in anger.
15/ It took another four months for him to leave the shelter, in the fall of 2016. It’s unclear where he went.
16/ There are several explanations for the growing lengths of stays of children at shelters run by @HeartlandHelps, including problems with staffing. We’ll talk about this in another thread soon.
17/ Be sure to follow us to stay posted on this investigation and others in the coming weeks. And if you want to get our reporting in your email, subscribe to our newsletter: . /end
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