Complaint by Immigrant Rights Groups to the Department of Homeland Security

Administrative Complaint to DHS Office of Inspector General and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Behalf of Unaccompanied Children Abused by CBP

On June 11, 2014, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, and the ACLU Border Litigation Project submitted an administrative complaint to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) documenting 116 cases of unaccompanied immigrant children who were abused by Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officials.

Documented from approximately March to May of 2014, the complaints include numerous reports of physical and sexual abuse, as well as verbal abuse involving death threats and racial slurs. Approximately half of the children reported the denial of medical care, including CBP refusal to treat nursing and pregnant minors and infants as young as five months old. Children were forced into stress positions, strip searches, and painful shackling in three-point restraints during transport. Virtually all of the children describe being detained in squalid conditions characterized by extreme cold, overcrowding, and no privacy. More than 80 percent described denial of adequate food and water in CBP custody, including a child whose only available drinking water came from a toilet tank and others who received only frozen or spoiled food and subsequently became ill. Many children reported being separated from other family members, and almost one in three reported that their money and/or personal belongings were confiscated by CBP officials and not returned. Approximately 70 percent reported being held beyond the legally mandated 72-hour period.

For example, M.R., a 15-year-old girl, traveled from Guatemala with her two-year-old son. Both M.R. and her son became sick while in CBP custody, but M.R.’s requests for medical attention were ignored or dismissed for approximately five days, until she and her son were finally taken to a hospital. K.A., a 14-year-old girl, had her asthma medication confiscated by CBP officials and proceeded to suffer multiple asthma attacks in the filthy and overcrowded CBP holding cells. After the first asthma attack, officials threatened that they would punish her if she were faking. H.R., a seven-year-old boy, was severely developmentally disabled and suffering from acute malnourishment when he was apprehended, but CBP held him in custody for approximately five days without any medical treatment. He was eventually hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery.

The complaint notes that many of the same abuses have been documented and reported to DHS for years, but no reforms have been implemented. The complaint further notes that DHS oversight agencies have failed to respond to individual complaints of CBP abuse, conduct investigations, or hold agents accountable, and cites to AIC’s report, No Action Taken, which made similar findings. The complaint calls for the implementation of binding short-term detention standards, independent oversight, uniform complaint procedures, and the delegation of child screening responsibilities to an entity other than CBP, such as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services or the Department of Health and Human Services, among other recommendations.

Counsel: National Immigrant Justice Center | Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project | Americans for Immigrant Justice | Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project | ACLU Border Litigation Project

Contact:  Alexandra Fung, National Immigrant Justice Center,  AFung@heartlandalliance.org;  Royce Murray, National Immigrant Justice Center, RMurray@heartlandalliance.org

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