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.”

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

  • One child reported being held for five days in the holding center. CBP did not allow the child to make any phone calls and told the child that “no one loves” the child. CBP officer mocked child as the officer said it.
  • One child reported being held for ten days and receiving little water even though the child kept asking for more. CBP officers swore at the child and called the child a “criminal.”
  • 85 children reported verbal abuse by the officers in charge of taking care of them. Children reported being insulted and yelled at several times.
    • One child was called a criminal and cussed at by an officer.
    • A child reported to us that an officer called her a “bitch”.
    • One child report being called a “pendejo” (a–hole) by an officer.
    • A child reported being screamed at by an officer asking the child why the child came to the United States.
    • One child reported that CBP officers yelled at the child until the child cried.
    • A child was yelled at and threatened with deportation by the CBP officers.
    • A child reported being called a “cabrón” (a–hole/dumbass) by an officer.
    • A child reported being called “a piece of sh-t” by an officer.

— 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, Abusive Language, Conditions in Custody

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child