Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Thousands of children who crossed the border into the United States reported being sexually assaulted while in U.S. government custody over a four-year span, according to documents released Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services documents released by the office of Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., showed that 4,556 children reported they were sexually assaulted to the Office of Refugee Resettlement while in the care of HHS between 2015 and 2018.
During a House judiciary committee meeting Tuesday, Deutch said the allegations amounted to "one sexual assault by HHS staff on an unaccompanied minor per week."
The documents showed that 154 allegations were against staff, while the majority were related to other minors in custody.
"These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children," Deutch said. "These documents tell us that there is a problem with adults, employees of HHS, sexually abusing children."
Cmdr. Jonathan White, who has overseen the care of migrant children in HHS custody, responded that "those are not HHS staff in any of those allegations," as the department contracts with more than 100 local shelters that house migrant children.
"Each of our grantees running standard shelters is licensed by the respective state for child care services," HHS spokeswoman Caitlin B. Oakley told NBC News.
Oakley said the safety of children in HHS care "is our top concern" and that in addition to "rigorous standards" put in place by the government "background checks of all facility employees are mandatory."
White added that sexual assaults reported to Health and Human Services are investigated fully and those found to be legitimate are referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.
The data showed 1,303 of the reports were sent to the Justice Department for further review and some were later found to be unfounded.