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.”

“Approximately 14 children reported being sick or getting sick while in CBP holding centers and not receiving adequate care,” the Florence Project’s complaint reads, citing the following examples:

  • A 16-year-old child was detained for six days in poor conditions and lacked adequate food. The child reported stomach pains from the food the child received and was not given medical attention when it was requested.
  • One child reported having COVID symptoms. CBP officers ignored the child until the child insisted on a COVID test. Upon testing positive, CBP officers refused to assist the child when the child requested toilet paper and water.
  • One child reported getting stomach pains after eating frozen food. The child asked for medical attention but never received it.
  • A child held for five days was very cold and became sick but was not given medical attention despite a request to see a medical provider.
  • One child stated that the child’s sister became sick with a respiratory illness and the nurse told her to just drink water and didn’t provide medicine or a COVID test.
  • A child reported being sick for five days while detained. Although the child was vomiting and had diarrhea, the officers did not provide medical attention. One officer told the child that “if you want medication, you have to stay five more days in detention.”
  • A child reported that the child felt sick while in CBP custody. A CBP officer examined the child and said that the child was fine, but the illness worsened. After the child arrived in ORR custody and was seen by medical processional, the child was immediately instructed to begin taking medication. The child believed that CBP’s failure to provide medical assistance allowed the condition to worsen.

— 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, Denial of Medical Care

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child