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.

Between January 1 and August 13, 2021, attorneys from the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project completed intakes with about 6,000 unaccompanied migrant children. “Out of those six thousand intakes,” the attorneys’ complaint reads, “the Florence Project documented over 900 reports of abuse and legal violations by CBP. Thus, approximately 15 percent of children we interviewed who passed through CBP custody were victims of abuse at the hands of CBP. That number is unacceptably high and likely undercounts the instances of abuse because many children remained afraid to report it.”

“28 children reported CBP physical abuse to the Florence Project,” the group’s complaint reads, citing the following examples:

  • A 17-year-old minor witnessed CBP agents use a Taser gun on other children as a punishment. The child was in constant fear after seeing other children being tased on the hand and neck. Although the child looked away each time this happened, the child was able to hear the cries of the impacted children.
  • One child reported that an officer yelled at the child and threw the child to the ground. The officer held the child on the floor by putting a knee on the child’s back.
  • One child reported that a person cleaning the holding center stepped on the child’s fingers and insulted the child when the child complained. The child witnessed CBP officers kick another child three times for sleeping in the wrong place.
  • A child reported witnessing an officer kick another child in the head.
  • A child reported being woken up by officers kicking the children and their mattresses.
  • Children reported being woken by officers slapping their bed sheets.
  • A 17-year-old child reported that a CBP officer shoved the child.

— Laura Bellows, Yesenia Ramales, “Abuse of Unaccompanied Non-Citizen Children in Customs and Border Protection Custody Between January and August 2021” (Phoenix: Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, 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, Use of Force

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child