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 excessive force or physical roughness with children:

  • L.A.C. is a sixteen-year-old child from Honduras who was detained in a hielera[10] and kicked by CBP officers while she slept if she did not get up fast enough.
  • P.A.M. is a sixteen-year-old child from Mexico who was seven-months pregnant while in CBP custody. CBP officers pulled P.A.M.’s hair while conducting a body search and grabbed her ankle without warning, causing her to lose her balance.
  • Upon apprehension, M.G.G. [a seventeen-year-old child from El Salvador] was denied water and witnessed other individuals being physically beaten by immigration officers.

“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:

[10]: Throughout this complaint, the word hielera is used to refer to CBP custody. Hielera, which roughly translates to “ice box,” is the word used by most children to describe CBP custody due to the extremely cold temperatures maintained in those facilities.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Use of Force

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

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