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.”

“Approximately 455 minors, or 10.6% of the minors screened, indicated that they lacked access to sufficient food, water, medical attention, or other basic necessities while in detention,” reads KIND’s complaint. It cites the following examples of denied medical care:

  • Many children reported having symptoms such as fever, ear infection, nausea, stomach pain, sore throat, cough, chills, headaches, and/or body aches while detained, but they were denied access to adequate medical attention when they reported these symptoms to officers. Instead, officers regularly told minors to drink more water or gave the children cough drops or allergy medicine, rather than allowing them to speak with a trained medical professional.
  • One minor, who felt feverish and had a very sore, swollen throat, remembers asking to see a doctor. Officers told her that she could only see a doctor “if she was dying.”
  • Another minor, who was a teenager mother, reports begging officers to take her baby to the doctor after her baby became very ill. The officers first told her that she shouldn’t have left her country if she didn’t want her baby to get sick, and that there would be no “preferential treatment” for her. When the baby’s condition worsened, officers finally agreed to take him to the hospital, where doctors told the mother that the baby had a bacterial infection, likely caused by food he had eaten in detention.
  • After her apprehension [during which she suffered abrasions and bruises], Debra [pseudonym, a 15-year-old minor] was taken to a detention facility and spoke with a medical provider for 2 minutes or less, but they told her there was nothing they could do for her injuries. They did not clean her injuries or provide her with any bandages.
  • Mikayla [pseudonym of a 15-year-old minor] shared that on approximately the 5th day of their detention Cameron, Abel, Mikayla, and other detained children became very sick after eating rice and tortillas that they believed were spoiled because they tasted sour. Other food they ate tasted under-cooked. Mikayla reports that they had stomach cramps, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. She vomited 2 or 3 times. Her brothers were sicker than she was and vomited multiple times a day, multiple days in a row. Mikayla alerted CBP officers at least 5 times that they were sick, but the officers did nothing to help them. Officers told her they did not have medication or medical personnel available to help the children. Mikayla remembers that they said, “This is not a hospital, and we are not doctors. We cannot help you.” Mikayla asked if they could eat anything else instead of the food which had made them ill. Officers replied that they would either eat what was given to them or not eat at all, and that it was not their concern whether the children ate or not.”

— 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, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child