2021, all year

Four children’s defense organizations filed complaints in a California district court after hearing unaccompanied migrant children narrate abuse and poor treatment while in short-term CBP custody during 2021 (original link). The complaints were filed on April 11, 2022 and shared by VICE News on May 2, 2022.

During 2021, attorneys from the Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef) provided Know Your Rights presentations and conducted legal screenings for at least 2,356 unaccompanied children exiting CBP custody. “During these legal screenings,” reads ImmDef’s complaint, “staff asked children to describe their experience being processed through the U.S. immigration system, with a focus on the conditions in CBP custody.”

ImmDef’s complaint cites the following examples of CBP personnel compelling children to sign documents that they did not understand:

  • A.R.B. was seventeen years old when she was detained CBP custody for eight hours. During that time, she was never provided with a meal and was pressured to sign documents that she did not understand.
  • D.S. [a seventeen-year-old child from Romania] did not have access to sufficient interpretation services and was forced to sign some documents that were never explained to him in Romanian.
  • CBP officers forced to D.C.E. [a 16-year-old] to sign paperwork that was not explained to him in his primary language, and he was never explained his rights as an unaccompanied child in U.S. immigration detention.
  • M.J.C. [a 14-year-old] was forced to sign documents she did not understand. Her requests to make phone calls were either denied or conditioned on her signing paperwork that was written in English.
  • While detained, the T.P. sisters [from Guatemala] reported that the CBP officers did not speak Spanish well and did not explain the documents that they asked each girl to sign. They felt forced to sign these documents and were denied the right to place a phone call on multiple occasions.
  • Before L.L.C. [a sixteen-year-old child from Guatemala] left the hielera, she was forced to sign documents she did not understand.

“It is not limited to one child or one instance,” ImmDef’s complaint concludes.

It is not limited to the conduct of a “bad apple” employee within the agency. It is not limited to even a rogue or remote CBP outpost that lacks training and resources. The sheer number of children who have reported abuse, many of whom told us that they fear retaliation and were afraid to speak up, suggests that these examples are but a fraction of the actual total.

— Hannah Comstock, Carson Scott, Madeline Sachs, “Abuse of Unaccompanied Minors in Customs and Border Protection Custody, January to December 2021” (Los Angeles: Immigrant Defenders Law Center, April 6, 2022) https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/21694269-alleged-abuse-of-unaccompanied-minors-in-customs-and-border-protection-custody.

— Keegan Hamilton, “Kids Allege Medical Neglect, Frigid Cells, and Rotten Burritos in Border Detention” (United States: VICE, May 2, 2022) https://www.vice.com/en/article/93b4vv/border-patrol-abuse-migrant-children.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Compelling Signature of English-Language Documents

Accountability Status: Complaint Filed with CRCL, Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Female, Guatemala, Romania, Unaccompanied Child