Outrage continues over Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center abuse allegations

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va (WHSV) — Outrage over allegations of abuse at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center continued on Sunday. More than 100 people protested outside of the center.

Protestors brought signs to show their discontent over the allegations.

Among the protesters was Jennifer Lewis, the Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates in the 6th Congressional District, hoping to defeat Ben Cline for Bob Goodlatte's seat.

Lewis said if she was currently in office, she would demand an investigation and the findings to be public.

"We need more transparency," Lewis said. "When we have a government facility like this housing children, as a community member and as hopefully the next congresswoman from the sixth district, we want to make sure that kids are treated well."

Congressman Bob Goodlatte called the claims "alarming" and said they merit a thorough investigation.

"I take claims of abuse seriously, and I expect that the relevant local, state, and federal entities will take them seriously as well," Goodlatte said. "Until today’s news report, I was not aware of these complaints."

Virginia's senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, said they would be "reaching out to the federal officials responsible for this program to demand answers."

Republican nominee Ben Cline responded on June 26 to WHSV's request for comment, saying, "The allegations are shocking and highly disturbing. I share the concern raised by the governor and others that children in the care of the commonwealth and of the local facility should be cared for."

The center has stood by its statement saying, "The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center believes the allegations of the Complaint to be without merit and looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will allow a jury to reach the same conclusion."

Kelsey Wong, the program director for the SVJC, said the center belives the allegations are "without merit" and "looks forward to the opportunity to present evidence that will allow a jury to reach the same conclusion."

As part of a federal class-action lawsuit, young immigrants held at the Shenandoah facility said in sworn statements said they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells. Children as young as 14 also said the guards there stripped them of their clothes and strapped them to chairs with bags placed over their heads.

Most of the immigrants held at the center were caught crossing the border illegally on their own. They were then sent to the center because they were believed to be members of violent gangs, like MS-13.

The AP also reported that almost a quarter of the teens the center treats every year are immigrants. The center has been holding immigrant children since at least 2007. In 2015, WHSV reported on a 15-year-old Mexican native who fled the center, telling reporters "I ran because I missed my family."

Two of the teens involved in the ongoing lawsuits against SVJC are no longer in the United States, because they left following the resolution of their immigration cases. A third teen remains in federal custody, but has been transferred to another detention facility in Alexandria, Virginia.

The incidents described in sworn statements from six Latino teens are alleged to have occurred between 2015 and 2018, under both the Obama and Trump administrations.

Though incarcerated in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not been convicted of any crime.