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 using abusive language with children:

  • In the hielera, CBP officers insulted P.A.M. [a sixteen-year-old child from Mexico] and other children, called them animals, and shut doors in their faces.
  • R.M.M. [a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala] received medication for three days, but his later requests for medical attention were outright denied. Instead, CBP officers yelled at him and called him names.
  • G.G.G. [a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala] witnessed CBP officers yell at other kids who did not get up right away at five o’clock in the morning for roll call or who did not immediately obey the commands of CBP officers.
  • CBP officers yelled at E.C.C. [a thirteen-year-old child] in both English and Spanish, including waking him and other children by yelling, “Levantense cabrones.” [26]
  • CBP officers called him [D.C.E., a 16-year-old,] a “gangster,” and threatened his aunt.
  • When M.J.C. [a 14-year-old] was first apprehended by CBP, she was handcuffed for approximately twenty-four hours without any food or water. Alone, exhausted from her journey, and afraid for her life, she was forced to sit on the side of the road as CBP officers yelled at her in English, which she did not understand. M.J.C. was cold and wet when she finally arrived at the hielera, but rather than give her warm clothes, CBP officers berated M.J.C., saying that “she should’ve thought about that before coming to the U.S.”
  • M.G.G. is a seventeen-year-old child who arrived in the United States from El Salvador and experienced egregious abuse at the hands of CBP officers. When M.G.G. was apprehended, she was verbally harassed. She reported hearing CBP officers refer to her and other children and families as “motherfuckers” in English, pendejos, and hijos de puta. [37]
  • When she first arrived at the hielera, she [L.L.C., a sixteen-year-old child from Guatemala] was yelled at by the guards and given a single mylar blanket. L.L.C. and the other children slept in a shelter with only a roof but no walls. L.L.C. recalls being very cold but afraid to ask for more blankets after seeing other children get yelled at.… L.L.C. also suffered verbal abuse while in CBP custody. She was spoken to in both English and Spanish, and officers would become angry and yell at the children when they did not fall asleep immediately.
  • K.M.A. [a 17-year-old] arrived in the United States with a minor friend and witnessed CBP officers take him into a small room and yell at him. Other CBP officers berated K.M.A. because she was pregnant and accused her of providing a false birth certificate. The CBP officers yelled at K.M.A. so much that she cried, and when she asked to call her mother, they refused to allow her to use the phone. K.M.A. was examined by a nurse while detained in CBP custody, and K.M.A. asked the nurse if it was common for the CBP officers to yell at children in the way she had experienced. The nurse responded that she could not answer the question and instead told CBP officers what K.M.A. had asked her. K.M.A. was then yelled at by two CBP officers, who told her that child immigrants should not come to the United States because it was a waste of taxes. The CBP officers accused K.M.A. of only coming to the United States so her baby could be a U.S. citizen and so that she could receive welfare. The officers expressed to her that it was not fair that the U.S. government would pay to support her baby. K.M.A. was also threatened by CBP officers. She was told that she would be put in jail because she was pregnant and because she had brought a fake birth certificate, even though K.M.A. repeatedly assured the officers that it was not fake.

“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.

Footnotes from above:

[26]: This phrase translates to “Get up a–holes”

[37]: These phrases translate to “a–holes” and “sons of bitches.”

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Abusive Language

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

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Female, Guatemala, Mexico, Pregnancy, Unaccompanied Child