Between January and July 2020, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, in tandem with the ACLU Border Rights Center, prepared and submitted a series of administrative complaints to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) detailing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)’s abuse and mistreatment of people in its custody. The complaints were based on a series of 103 interviews conducted with individuals recently released from CBP custody between March and July 2019.
Complaint #1 – Mistreatment of Pregnant People
The first complaint, filed January 22, 2020, focused on CBP’s abuse and mistreatment of detained pregnant people. One detained woman who was six months pregnant detailed how a Border Patrol agent forcibly slammed her face against a chain link fence while other agents looked on and did nothing. Border Patrol then detained her for three days without medical care. Another woman reported her fear of her pregnant belly being kicked while having to sleep on the crowded floor of the holding cell. When she began to experience abdomen pain and other symptoms and asked for medical attention, Border Patrol agents told her she was lying.
The complaint contains numerous reports of pregnant individuals being denied not only medical care, but access to clean clothes and other basic hygienic necessities.
The complaint implores DHS OIG to conduct an immediate review of CBP’s treatment of pregnant people in its custody, including recommending CBP stop detaining pregnant people altogether and adopt explicit policies to ensure for adequate, timely medical care of pregnant individuals. For updated advocacy on this issue, consult the entry on ACLU and 137 organizations send letter to CBP Commissioner urging CBP not to detain pregnant, postpartum, and nursing people.
Complaint #2 – Mistreatment of Sick Children
The second complaint, filed on February 18, 2020, focused on the treatment of sick children in CBP and U.S. Border Patrol facilities. The complaint details how Border Patrol continued to hold a weeks-old infant who experienced significant weight loss while detained in custody against the express and repeated advice of medical professionals. In another case, Border Patrol held a five-year-old child for eight days without providing any medical attention for his persistent fever and diarrhea. The complaint also notes how, as of the time of its filing, at least seven children have died in CBP custody or shortly after being released, many of whom received delayed or no medical care. Finally, the complaint calls on DHS OIG to review CBP’s treatment of sick children in its custody, recommend that CBP prioritize the release of all children, and strictly prohibit continued detention of sick children.
Complaint #3 – Separation of Families in CBP Processing & Detention
The third complaint, filed on April 15, 2020, focused on CBP’s separation of families during detention and processing and the agency’s refusal to implement a detainee locator system. The complaint noted that despite the supposed halting of DHS’s well-publicized separation of young children from their parents, family separations continue to occur as a result of CBP processing and detention practices. Border Patrol and DHS have adopted a very restrictive definition of “family” that includes only legal guardians accompanied by minor children and gives Border Patrol agents unilateral discretion to decide whether to separate family members, resulting in countless ongoing family separations. The ACLU’s investigation documented the separation of a grandmother and her nine-year-old grandson, a woman and her sister, and a mother and her non-minor son, among countless others. Noting the many ways in which family separations intensify trauma for already vulnerable asylum seekers of all ages and the many extreme barriers to locating and communicating with loved ones who are detained, the complaint calls on DHS OIG to recommend CBP implement a detainee locator system, refrain from detaining family units, and prioritize the prompt release of families. It also recommends adoption of a more expansive definition of “family”.
Complaint #4 – Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals
The fourth complaint in the series, filed July 7, 2020, focused on U.S. Border Patrol’s verbal abuse of detained individuals. This complaint highlights Border Patrol’s “staggering culture of cruelty” and “systematic mistreatment and dehumanization of vulnerable people.” Detained individuals reported being told “Forget about asylum, we might just take away your daughter,” “Get out of here, what are you doing here if you don’t even speak English, you are worthless,” “If you keep complaining I will put you with the dogs,” “[Y]ou broke the law, you have no rights,” “I am treating you the way illegals should be treated,” and a litany of other abusive slurs. The complaint calls on DHS OIG to recommend CBP strictly prohibit personnel from verbally abusing individuals in its custody, adopt zero-tolerance policies for anti-immigrant and racist employee conduct, and create a new complaint process that allows for timely review and increased transparency.
- Administrative Complaint #1 – Mistreatment of Pregnant People
- Administrative Complaint #2 – Mistreatment of Sick Children
- Administrative Complaint #3 – Separation of Families in CBP Processing & Detention
- Administrative Complaint #4 – Verbal Abuse of Detained Individuals
Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties; ACLU Border Rights Center
Contact: Shaw Drake | ACLU of Texas | firstname.lastname@example.org