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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

KIND’s complaint cites the following examples of CBP personnel using abusive language with children:

  • children report having been so terrified by the violent and aggressive behavior of officers that they cried or were unable to sleep or eat. They describe feelings of extreme anxiety and sadness. Some have nightmares about their time in CBP detention and experience other psycho-somatic symptoms, such as shaking or crying, when recalling the harm they suffered.
  • Children described officers who yelled aggressively, used foul language, called them names, told them they were undeserving of help or respect, accused them of being criminals or lying, and threatened to deport them. Children report being called “cabron” (a–hole), “puta” (bitch or slut), “pendejo” (stupid), “mierda” (sh-t), “burro” (donkey, ass, or idiot), “cerdo” (pig), “waste of time,” “criminal,” and “liar.”
  • Many older children described being threatened and intimidated by officers who did not believe they were minors. For example, one girl who wishes to remain anonymous was 17 years old when officers detained her in August 2021. She was held in CBP detention for approximately five days. While in detention, she felt singled out and harassed by a particular officer who did not believe that she was a minor. The first time she met the officer, he grabbed her by the arm and pressured her to sign a document affirming that she was a minor. She encountered this officer again multiple times and felt threatened, scared, and intimidated every time. The officer called her a liar and threatened to throw her in jail and deport her. The officer claimed to have worked closely with the Guatemalan government for 10 years, which he felt qualified him to know whether she was a minor or an adult. The minor reports that she was not the only person targeted in this way. The officer seemed to think that anyone who was taller or heavier-set was an adult, and he called them liars and threatened to throw them in jail or deport them.
  • [Children] describe officers throwing their food or belongings on the floor, rather than directly handing these items to the children.
  • Some children report that officers denied them access to the bathroom when they needed it. Others report that officers got angry or humiliated the children when they asked to use the bathroom at a time the officer felt was inconvenient.
  • Abel, Cameron, and Mikayla [pseudonyms] are siblings. They were respectively 5, 6 and 15 years old when they were detained by CBP officers on or about March 18, 2021 in Texas. They spent approximately 16 days in detention. Officers believed that Mikayla was Abel and Cameron’s mother, rather than their sister, and they called her a liar when she said she was a minor. They tried to get her to say that she was an adult and that she was the mother of the boys, and eventually made her sign a document stating that she was a minor.… Mikayla also reports that one particular officer was very aggressive and threatening. She does not know his name but described him as a bald man in a green uniform. This particular officer terrified the children because he threatened to beat 6-year-old Cameron with a nightstick because he was lethargic as a result of his illness and did not want to leave a room when ordered to do so. He eventually lifted Cameron up by his T-shirt. The officer threatened to beat the children with a nightstick many times during their detention. He almost always yelled when he spoke to them, and he told the children that if they didn’t want to be treated the way they were being treated then they never should have come to the United States.

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child