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Migrant Children Allegedly 'Dragged, Yelled At, And Threatened' In Chicago Immigration Shelter

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Stunning allegations have been released surrounding the treatment of migrant children while they were held in Chicago.

The stories are coming from the children, themselves, as reported by the Washington Post.

CBS 2's Roseanne Tellez reports there are calls for a federal investigation.

The Washington Post article describes kids being shouted at, dragged, and threatened by the staff.

Reporter Mike Miller says the Brazilian mothers who reunited with their children in Chicago were shocked to hear how their children were treated during the interview.

9-year-old Diogo and 10-year-old Diego have were smiling when they were reunited with their mothers, but the boys have begun to open up about life at Casa Guadalupe, a shelter run by Heartland Alliance.

Diogo says he felt like a prisoner after spending nearly three weeks isolated with the chickenpox. When he slept late, he says he was told he might have to stay until he was 18.

Diego said he saw a five-year-old repeatedly injected with something that made him fall asleep and worried he might be injected.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is calling for answers.

In a letter to Heartland, he wrote:  "I am distressed at the allegations made by children in The Washington Post article and request that you notify me as soon as possible whether these accounts are accurate, what steps Heartland will take to hold the alleged perpetrators accountable, and how Heartland will work to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again," Durbin wrote in a letter to David Sinski, the Executive Director and Vice President of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights.

Durbin continued, "Children separated from their families at our Southern border as a result of President Trump's unlawful and heartless policy have already endured far more trauma than any child should ever be forced to endure. Every effort must be made to ensure that, once in the care of HHS grantees like Heartland, these children are compassionately cared for, both physically and emotionally."

"Diego said that he actually broke his arm while he was at the shelter and according to him, he was not seen by a doctor or a nurse, but rather just a shelter employee," Mike Miller stated. "Diego said 'I don't want to remember this, you know. It's painful for me. It was a horrible time.' And I think that kind of hints at the trauma that these kids are experiencing and how it's going to take a long time to recover and to really process that."

Miller said the parents have seen changes in their children's attitude since their stay in the shelter.

Durbin is asking the Office of Inspector General to look into the allegations.

A Heartland Alliance spokesperson released a statement responding to Senator Durbin's letter.

The statement said:  "Recent allegations about our programs are disturbing as they do not reflect our values or the quality of care we strive to provide.  We immediately initiated an investigation upon learning of these allegations over the weekend, and we welcome Senator Durbin's call for an investigation of our programs from the Office of Inspector General.  If any investigation reveals that a staff member placed a child in danger or did not follow protocols, we will immediately remove them from their duties. We have augmented the staff capacity and oversight at our shelters while we await the outcome of any and all investigations, and all shelter staff are receiving additional mandatory training on trauma-informed care by the end of July.

Ensuring the safety and well-being of children is our top priority.  We have extensive policies, procedures, and standards of care that guide our approach to ensure the safety and well-being of all children in our care. It is not our practice to ever use injections for behavior management—our staff are well-trained in handling childcare and emotional issues.  We provide a structure of learning and play at our shelters, children are given age-appropriate chores, and we nurture all children in our care.  And, as we run residential shelters, we are proactive in preventing the spread of communicable diseases to keep from spreading illnesses among children.

Heartland Alliance is a 130-year-old human rights organization that has been providing shelter to unaccompanied minors for more than 20 years.  We stand alongside children seeking safety in the U.S. and we fervently believe that families belong together."

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