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 troubling anecdotes about children’s conditions in CBP custody:

  • Children described being given food that was frozen, undercooked, or spoiled and therefore inedible. Other children report becoming nauseated or vomiting after eating the food.
  • one minor, who was detained for several weeks, remembers that there were never enough toothbrushes for each child, so they had to take turns deciding who would be able to brush their teeth.
  • 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.
  • Nathaniel [pseudonym] was 17 years old when CBP officers detained him in Texas on or about March 3, 2021. What he remembers most about his time in CBP detention is that it was extremely cold, that he barely slept, and that he did not receive sufficient food, so he was almost always hungry. He thought he would only be there for 3 days, but he was there for approximately 12. He was only permitted to shower 2 or 3 times while he was detained. Officers would only let him sleep for short durations of time before they would wake him up to conduct roll call, speak with children, or clean the cell. There was not enough space in the cell for everyone to sleep at the same time. He says that the other children cried a lot, because the officers were not nice to them, but he did not want to elaborate on what he meant because he was afraid to share further details.
  • Mikayla [pseudonym of a 15-year-old minor] further reports that during their 16-day detention, she and her brothers were only permitted to shower and change their clothes approximately 3 times, and that they were only permitted to brush their teeth twice. They were held with approximately 100 children, in a cell that Mikayla estimates could only fit 25 children comfortably.… It was difficult to sleep because the rooms were so crowded, the lights were almost always on, and the officers woke the children regularly to clean the cell. Furthermore, there was not sufficient space for all the children to lie down at the same time, and children quarreled over a very limited number of sleeping mats available.

— 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child