24 Records of Alleged Abusive or Improper Conduct in “Border-Wide” where the event type is “Conditions in Custody”

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

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 denying food or water to children in custody:

  • 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.”
  • 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 that the food provided made the child sick with a headache. When the child examined the wrapper of the burritos served by CBP, they were expired.

— 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 Food or Water

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 troubling anecdotes about children’s conditions in CBP custody:

  • The child was held with a large number of other children and was only given a couch to sleep on. The child only had one opportunity to shower. The child observed cameras inside the showering area and felt very uncomfortable.
  • Seven different children reported feeling unsafe due to cameras being placed in rooms where they were showering.

— 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

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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.”

“More than 25 children reported being held in holding centers in rooms/areas with unrelated adults,” the complaint reads. “These adults were not family or known to the children. Many of the children reported feeling afraid.”

— 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): Conditions in Custody, Endangerment

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“1% of children reported physical abuse or excessive force,” reads AI Justice’s complaint, citing the following examples:

  • One child, D.G.M.H., 15, reported having her foot handcuffed to a chair despite being cooperative and answering CBP officers’ questions.
  • H.M.C., 15, reported that if their name was called and they did not respond because they were sleeping, officers would kick them awake. He reports that they wear heavy work boots, and this was very painful.
  • F.C.R., 15, reported being kicked awake when he was sleeping.
  • C.C.L., 10, who was held for over five days, reported feeling hungry and not being able to shower regularly during his time in CBP custody. He states that at one point during his time there he had his mattress taken away. He stated that CBP would take their mattress if they felt someone was misbehaving. He also reported that officers sometimes would use vulgar words directed at them.

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 has encountered 172 children who were not given adequate food and water,” reads the organization’s complaint, which includes the following examples:

  • R.M.M. is a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala who was detained in CBP custody for eight days, during two of which he received no food, causing him to experience head pains and stomach problems.
  • L.G.O. is a thirteen-year-old child from El Salvador who only received a single meal consisting of cold, rotten food each day she was held in CBP custody.
  • M.V.P. [a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala] reported that she did not eat during her time at the detention center because the burritos given to the children smelled spoiled. She was given only small amounts of water.

“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.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Food or Water

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

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

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 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“6% reported verbal abuse and/or harassment by adult immigration officials,” reads AI Justice’s complaint, citing the following examples:

  • J.E.A., 15, reported one officer swearing at him and using the word “f-ck” and having officers laugh but not understanding exactly what was being said to him or about him.
  • D.C.L., 16, stated that there were two officers that would yell at the detained children for any perceived misstep and feeling very intimidated. He stated: “It felt so horrible, you were trapped.” He reported feeling that there was a lot of racism and not understanding why he was being treated so poorly when he came to the U.S. seeking safety.
  • H.M.C., 15, stated an officer said “shut your f-cking mouth” after he attempted to help other migrants understand his order. He also reported several officers would threaten to send youth back to their countries and boasted that they could easily do so.
  • C.R.F., 17, stated an officer told him he would be returned to Honduras to frighten him. He cried after that. He remembers officers saying things like “this is not your country, and you are here illegally” to put them down.
  • K.X.S., 16, stated that officers harassed her about her age and were making jokes at her expense. She reported that they said she looked older and threatened to send her to jail.
  • A.B.B., 17, reported being yelled at for greeting someone she recognized during her registration and accusing her of providing a fake birth certificate.
  • K.V.A., 16, witnessed others being verbally berated and kicked awake if they were not responsive.

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 has encountered…twenty-three children who suffered medical neglect,” reads the organization’s complaint, which includes the following examples:

  • 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.
  • M.J.C. [a 14-year-old] requested medical attention, which CBP officers denied for three days, instructing her instead to lie down or sleep. CBP officers eventually had to take M.J.C. to a hospital after her symptoms worsened. Doctors later confirmed that her stomach problems were caused by the food provided in the hielera and that she was living with an untreated broken arm that she sustained during her journey. M.J.C. was eventually returned to the CBP facility, where officers withheld her medications and only provided her the same food that made her sick and landed her in the hospital. She became so hungry that she had no option but to eat the dangerous food, which unsurprisingly caused her to experience the same stomach pain. This time, however, she was too afraid to tell the officers that she was in pain and instead suffered in silence.

A June 2022 report from the Marshall Project elaborated on M.J.C.’s story:

It was during that chaos in the spring of 2021 when M.J., an unaccompanied 14-year-old girl from Guatemala, landed in a Border Patrol facility in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Instead of the maximum of 72 hours, as required, she was held for 18 days, according to case records reviewed by lawyers with the Immigrant Defenders, who are representing her in her immigration case.

M.J. had been injured in the last days of her journey across Mexico. She leapt from a moving freight train, landing on her shoulder in a bank of rocks, M.J. said in an interview in California in March. (Because she is a minor in legal proceedings, she asked that her name and exact location not be published.)

With her arm swollen and blue, M.J. turned herself in to the Border Patrol soon after crossing the Rio Grande. Agents kept her in handcuffs for 24 hours, she said, aggravating the ache.

She was moved to a vast tent holding families and minors, most likely, based on court documents, in Donna, Texas. Crammed with dozens of girls into a cell defined by clear plastic walls, M.J. slept on a narrow metal bench for nearly three weeks. To leave the cell to use the bathroom, she had to ask each girl for permission to step over. She never had a change of clothes, she said.

She fashioned a sling from a borrowed cloth to relieve the throb in her shoulder. An attendant, citing security rules, took it away, M.J. said. There were nurses on duty, but they declined to give her medication for the pain.

“No one told you to come to the United States,” she said one attendant told her.

The only food was egg burritos and beans, often half-frozen. On the fourth day, M.J. said, she started to vomit from stomach cramps and shoulder pain. The medical staff, relenting, sent her to a local clinic, where examinations revealed a fractured shoulder and severe dehydration.

A physician gave her a sling and prescribed a painkiller. After she was returned to the detention facility later that day, M.J. said, a guard took away the new sling. She never received the medication.

  • When B.T.P. [a Guatemalan girl] asked for medical assistance due to constant headaches, she was first ignored and later told that she would see a doctor. The doctor never arrived.
  • M.G.G. [a seventeen-year-old from El Salvador] also reported a lack of COVID-19 precautions and general medical neglect. When she first arrived, M.G.G. was not given a COVID-19 test and later discovered that there were people with active cases of COVID-19 held in the hielera with her. She was not provided with a mask.
  • The food in the hielera consisted of burritos that tasted spoiled, and L.L.C. [a sixteen-year-old child from Guatemala] soon became sick. When she reported feeling ill to medical staff, they did not address her concerns. As a result, L.L.C. was forced to skip meals. L.L.C. witnessed similar treatment of other children when they felt sick—CBP officers refused to provide medicine and only told the children to drink more water.
  • While crossing the border, M.V.P. [a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala] hurt the back of her right knee while jumping over a wall. When she asked to see a doctor in the CBP facility, she was given unidentified pills but did not receive any other treatment or follow up.… After four days in CBP custody, M.V.P. began experiencing severe stomach pains and complained to CBP officers. Four hours later, she was taken to a nurse, who did not treat her. After another nine to ten hours of suffering severe pain, M.V.P. was taken to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with dehydration and put on an IV. When she was discharged from the emergency room, the doctor gave the immigration official paperwork about her condition. M.V.P believes there was more to her condition than dehydration, but she never received a copy of that paperwork.

“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.

— Anna Flagg and Julia Preston, “‘No Place for a Child’: 1 in 3 Migrants Held in Border Patrol Facilities Is a Minor” (The Marshall Project, Politico: June 16, 2022) https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/06/16/border-patrol-migrant-children-detention-00039291.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Denial of Medical Care

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

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

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 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“13% of children reported lack of food and/or water,” reads AI Justice’s complaint. “Children reported that the food provided was insufficient, malnourishing, and at times, inedible due to it being spoiled or raw.” The complaint cites the following examples:

  • K.G.C., 15, reported only receiving bread despite being detained 10 days.
  • J.H.M., 9, reported receiving raw ham and burgers containing raw meat.
  • J.E.A., 15, reported being thirsty and the only access to water being right a by a bathroom with dirty water so he worried about drinking water from there. He also reported being hungry and having only been fed a sandwich.

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, 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 Food or Water

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 encountered forty-two children who were held in unsanitary conditions, 126 children who were forced to sleep on the ground or outside, and 452 children who were detained for longer than 72 hours,” the organization’s complaint reads. “Many children also reported extremely cold temperatures and privacy violations.” Examples include:

  • [L.G.O. is a thirteen-year-old child from El Salvador, was] forced to lie on the floor without a mattress. She was unable to sleep because light and noise were constant. L.G.O. was never given the opportunity to shower.
  • H.G.C. is a sixteen-year-old child from Guatemala who was held in a hielera for three days. H.G.C. was also held in a cell that housed other detainees and contained only one, entirely exposed toilet. H.G.C.’s only hope for privacy was to ask his cellmates to move to the opposite side of the room each time he used the bathroom. During his three days in the hielera, the lights were always on, causing H.G.C. to lose sense of whether it was day or night.
  • G.G.G. is a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala who was detained for four days in a hielera that had bathrooms without doors, leaving him and the other children without any privacy while using the toilet. The facility was kept at very cold temperatures, yet G.G.G. never received a blanket thick enough to keep him warm.… During his four days in CBP custody, G.G.G. was only allowed to make one phone call.
  • O.L.L., an eleven-year-old child from Guatemala, was detained in a hielera for seven and a half days under frigid conditions that caused his lips to turn purple. O.L.L. only speaks Spanish, yet officers spoke to him in English. He was only allowed to make one phone call every three days.
  • [D.S., a seventeen-year-old child from Romania,] was given a mylar blanket but was never provided a toothbrush or toothpaste.
  • [D.C.E., a 16-year-old,] was not given supplies to brush his teeth or take a full shower, and he did not have privacy when using the bathroom. While D.C.E. was detained, the lights were always on in the facility, making it difficult for him to distinguish between day and night. His waking hours were marked by meals consisting of old or spoiled food, which made him sick.
  • CBP officers yelled loudly near her ears [M.J.C., a 14-year-old] to wake her up and only gave her a mylar blanket to keep warm despite M.J.C.’s request for a different blanket. She was forced to sleep on a bench or on the ground close to others, in blatant disregard for the risks of such proximity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. M.J.C. was also repeatedly denied requests to use the toilet and was never given a change of clothes—for eighteen days, she wore the same dirty clothes she had arrived in.
  • M.T.P., B.T.P., and A.T.P. are three sisters from Guatemala who were detained in CBP custody for seven days, during which they experienced mistreatment and medical neglect. The T.P. sisters were placed in a dirty, crowded detention facility where they were held with other children who were sick to the point of vomiting. They were not allowed to shower for the first four days they were detained and reported that CBP failed to undertake any efforts to maintain hygiene or social distancing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sisters felt uncomfortable using the toilets in the facility due to the lack of privacy, and they were not provided with sufficient sanitary supplies. All three sisters experienced issues with the quality of food. M.T.P. became so sick she was forced to stop eating the burritos. Instead, she ate only a cookie and water each day and was afraid to ask CBP officers for alternatives or medicine because she had seen others being yelled at.
  • During her thirteen days in the hielera, M.G.G. [a seventeen-year-old from El Salvador] was never given a blanket or a change of clothes and was only allowed to shower once. By way of explanation, CBP officers swore at her and told her that it “wasn’t a hotel.” Every day, she was woken up early and could not sleep. M.G.G. also reported that she was given old and rotten food. For thirteen days, she was only fed burritos with rice and apples. When she told CBP officers that she felt sick, they told her to drink more water and exercise. However, she was only given a single small bottle of water each day at 6am.
  • L.L.C. [a sixteen-year-old child from Guatemala] was transferred to a hielera in Texas, where she stayed for the next twelve days. L.L.C. described the walls of the hielera as equivalent to a thick nylon, and she was held in a room approximately the size of a conference room with eighty-one other girls. The cell was so crowded that she was forced to sleep pressed up against the person next to her or sitting up. L.L.C. described being extremely cold day and night. She described feeling like she and the other children were being treated like animals. The food in the hielera consisted of burritos that tasted spoiled, and L.L.C. soon became sick. When she reported feeling ill to medical staff, they did not address her concerns. As a result, L.L.C. was forced to skip meals.… L.L.C. described that it was difficult to sleep because the CBP officers woke them every hour in order to clean the cells and the lights were always kept on. L.L.C. was only able to brush her teeth three times per week, and she was only able to bathe once during the twelve days she was held in the hielera. L.L.C. felt that there was no privacy in the bathrooms, and there were several times when she did not have toilet paper. She was only allowed to make one, two-minute telephone call, and during the call a CBP officer stood within earshot.
  • In the hielera, M.V.P. [a seventeen-year-old child from Guatemala] was confined to a cell with around eighty other people, including women with small children. M.V.P. reported that there was nowhere to sit or sleep the first night, and she slept sitting on a metal bench the following nights. The cell also contained a toilet, which was not closed off from the rest of the space. As a result, M.V.P. and her cell mates were forced to use the mylar blankets that they slept with as makeshift curtains to create privacy for the toilet. M.V.P. was not given any opportunity to shower during her time in CBP custody.
  • Once J.N.P. [a 16-year-old] arrived at the hielera, she was forced to bathe with many other girls in one bathroom. There was no privacy except for transparent curtains, and J.N.P. reported feeling very uncomfortable. The girls had to bathe without clothes on, yet officers were present with them in the bathrooms and were rude and disrespectful. When J.N.P. and some of the other girls complained, the CBP officers yelled at them and rushed them out as soon as their five minutes were up. Even after she bathed, J.N.P. developed head lice and dandruff due to the unsanitary conditions. Throughout her time in the hielera, J.N.P. was given egg burritos for every meal, which left her feeling hungry and ultimately gave her stomach pains. When she needed to use the bathroom, there was no privacy—the toilets were separated by walls on the sides but not in the front, and J.N.P. felt uncomfortable using the bathroom because others could see everything. The temperatures inside the hielera were kept extremely cold, and J.N.P. was denied blankets or more clothes when she asked. The cold made sleeping difficult, and J.N.P. was forced to sleep on a thin mat pressed up against strangers due to overcrowding. The lights were also left on the entire time, yet when J.N.P. and other children could not sleep, CBP officers only yelled at them. Throughout her time in the hielera, J.N.P. was not allowed to make any phone calls.

“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.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody

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

Victim Classification: El Salvador, Female, Guatemala, Romania, Unaccompanied Child

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 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“50% of children reported cold temperatures where the children describe their lips becoming chapped, bodies trembling, and/or becoming sick with a fever or cold,” reads the AI Justice complaint, citing the following examples:

  • N.T.M., 13, asked to be moved because she was so cold in her cell that her skin went purple, and her lips were so dry they cracked and bled.
  • K.P.R., 9, reported feeling so cold his “bones hurt.”
  • D.C.L., 16, reports being so cold he trembled. He said he did not have a sweater and all they were given were mylar blankets that often broke. When they tried to grab another blanket, the officers would yell at them. He stated he felt desperate to get out of the cold.
  • A.B.B., 17, echoed the stories of many when she reported that she was very cold during her time in CBP custody and that the mylar blanket provided was not enough to keep warm.

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 account of “E.C.C.,” a 13-year-old child “who, for nine days, was detained in a CBP facility in a small room with thirty-five to forty other people, most of whom were adults and none of whom ever received a toothbrush or soap.”

— 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.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Abuse of Minor, Conditions in Custody, Endangerment

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 2019 and 2021, attorneys from Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) interviewed approximately 12,731 unaccompanied migrant children at Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facilities. The organization’s complaint includes numerous examples from 2021 and 2022 of mistreatment of children while in CBP custody.

“5% of children reported being detained with adults,” reads AI Justice’s complaint. “J.H.M. stated that he was in the holding cell with four adult men, two of which harassed the 9-year-old telling him that he was his father and another, his uncle because one of them had impregnated his mom. J.H.M was distraught and tried to tell CBP officers what was happening to him but still he remained in the cell with adults. He reports lying on the floor and crying.”

— Jennifer Anzardo, Maite García, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Consistent Failure to Comply with the Terms of the Flores Settlement Agreement and Their Own Standards on the Transport, Escort, Detention and Search of Unaccompanied Children” (United States: Americans for Immigrant Justice, 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, Endangerment

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

KIND’s complaint cites the following examples of CBP personnel using excessive force or physical roughness with children:

  • We received widespread reports of officers who woke up sleeping children, often in the early morning or middle of the night, by screaming at them, kicking them, hitting them, kicking the mats they were sleeping on, or pulling the mats out from under them. We also received reports of officers shoving children, grabbing and pulling them by the ear, arm, or clothing, and using intimidating body language.
  • children report having been so terrified by the violent and aggressive behavior of officers that they cried or were unable to sleep or eat. They describe feelings of extreme anxiety and sadness. Some have nightmares about their time in CBP detention and experience other psycho-somatic symptoms, such as shaking or crying, when recalling the harm they suffered.
  • a female minor, who wishes to remain anonymous, was 17 years old at the time she was detained for approximately 14 days. She states that she was treated very poorly by officials and that they woke her up every morning by kicking her.

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

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

  • children report having been so terrified by the violent and aggressive behavior of officers that they cried or were unable to sleep or eat. They describe feelings of extreme anxiety and sadness. Some have nightmares about their time in CBP detention and experience other psycho-somatic symptoms, such as shaking or crying, when recalling the harm they suffered.
  • Children described officers who yelled aggressively, used foul language, called them names, told them they were undeserving of help or respect, accused them of being criminals or lying, and threatened to deport them. Children report being called “cabron” (a–hole), “puta” (bitch or slut), “pendejo” (stupid), “mierda” (sh-t), “burro” (donkey, ass, or idiot), “cerdo” (pig), “waste of time,” “criminal,” and “liar.”
  • Many older children described being threatened and intimidated by officers who did not believe they were minors. For example, one girl who wishes to remain anonymous was 17 years old when officers detained her in August 2021. She was held in CBP detention for approximately five days. While in detention, she felt singled out and harassed by a particular officer who did not believe that she was a minor. The first time she met the officer, he grabbed her by the arm and pressured her to sign a document affirming that she was a minor. She encountered this officer again multiple times and felt threatened, scared, and intimidated every time. The officer called her a liar and threatened to throw her in jail and deport her. The officer claimed to have worked closely with the Guatemalan government for 10 years, which he felt qualified him to know whether she was a minor or an adult. The minor reports that she was not the only person targeted in this way. The officer seemed to think that anyone who was taller or heavier-set was an adult, and he called them liars and threatened to throw them in jail or deport them.
  • [Children] describe officers throwing their food or belongings on the floor, rather than directly handing these items to the children.
  • Some children report that officers denied them access to the bathroom when they needed it. Others report that officers got angry or humiliated the children when they asked to use the bathroom at a time the officer felt was inconvenient.
  • Abel, Cameron, and Mikayla [pseudonyms] are siblings. They were respectively 5, 6 and 15 years old when they were detained by CBP officers on or about March 18, 2021 in Texas. They spent approximately 16 days in detention. Officers believed that Mikayla was Abel and Cameron’s mother, rather than their sister, and they called her a liar when she said she was a minor. They tried to get her to say that she was an adult and that she was the mother of the boys, and eventually made her sign a document stating that she was a minor.… Mikayla also reports that one particular officer was very aggressive and threatening. She does not know his name but described him as a bald man in a green uniform. This particular officer terrified the children because he threatened to beat 6-year-old Cameron with a nightstick because he was lethargic as a result of his illness and did not want to leave a room when ordered to do so. He eventually lifted Cameron up by his T-shirt. The officer threatened to beat the children with a nightstick many times during their detention. He almost always yelled when he spoke to them, and he told the children that if they didn’t want to be treated the way they were being treated then they never should have come to the United States.

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

KIND’s complaint cites the account of a 17-year-old minor who “experienced gender-based shame because officers yelled at her to leave a bathroom, but she did not have time to finish taking care of her needs before several male officers came into the restroom. This experience left her feeling humiliated and exposed.”

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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, Sexual Assault or Harassment

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

“Approximately 455 minors, or 10.6% of the minors screened, indicated that they lacked access to sufficient food, water, medical attention, or other basic necessities while in detention,” reads KIND’s complaint. It cites the following examples of denied medical care:

  • Many children reported having symptoms such as fever, ear infection, nausea, stomach pain, sore throat, cough, chills, headaches, and/or body aches while detained, but they were denied access to adequate medical attention when they reported these symptoms to officers. Instead, officers regularly told minors to drink more water or gave the children cough drops or allergy medicine, rather than allowing them to speak with a trained medical professional.
  • One minor, who felt feverish and had a very sore, swollen throat, remembers asking to see a doctor. Officers told her that she could only see a doctor “if she was dying.”
  • Another minor, who was a teenager mother, reports begging officers to take her baby to the doctor after her baby became very ill. The officers first told her that she shouldn’t have left her country if she didn’t want her baby to get sick, and that there would be no “preferential treatment” for her. When the baby’s condition worsened, officers finally agreed to take him to the hospital, where doctors told the mother that the baby had a bacterial infection, likely caused by food he had eaten in detention.
  • After her apprehension [during which she suffered abrasions and bruises], Debra [pseudonym, a 15-year-old minor] was taken to a detention facility and spoke with a medical provider for 2 minutes or less, but they told her there was nothing they could do for her injuries. They did not clean her injuries or provide her with any bandages.
  • Mikayla [pseudonym of a 15-year-old minor] shared that on approximately the 5th day of their detention Cameron, Abel, Mikayla, and other detained children became very sick after eating rice and tortillas that they believed were spoiled because they tasted sour. Other food they ate tasted under-cooked. Mikayla reports that they had stomach cramps, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. She vomited 2 or 3 times. Her brothers were sicker than she was and vomited multiple times a day, multiple days in a row. Mikayla alerted CBP officers at least 5 times that they were sick, but the officers did nothing to help them. Officers told her they did not have medication or medical personnel available to help the children. Mikayla remembers that they said, “This is not a hospital, and we are not doctors. We cannot help you.” Mikayla asked if they could eat anything else instead of the food which had made them ill. Officers replied that they would either eat what was given to them or not eat at all, and that it was not their concern whether the children ate or not.”

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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 Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) met with about 4,515 unaccompanied minor migrant children at 12 Office of Refugee Resettlement shelters in New York City, Houston, Atlanta, and Seattle. “During these screenings,” reads KIND’s complaint, “minors reported numerous civil rights violations during their apprehension and detention by CBP.”

KIND’s complaint cites the following troubling anecdotes about children’s conditions in CBP custody:

  • Children described being given food that was frozen, undercooked, or spoiled and therefore inedible. Other children report becoming nauseated or vomiting after eating the food.
  • one minor, who was detained for several weeks, remembers that there were never enough toothbrushes for each child, so they had to take turns deciding who would be able to brush their teeth.
  • Some children report that officers denied them access to the bathroom when they needed it. Others report that officers got angry or humiliated the children when they asked to use the bathroom at a time the officer felt was inconvenient.
  • Nathaniel [pseudonym] was 17 years old when CBP officers detained him in Texas on or about March 3, 2021. What he remembers most about his time in CBP detention is that it was extremely cold, that he barely slept, and that he did not receive sufficient food, so he was almost always hungry. He thought he would only be there for 3 days, but he was there for approximately 12. He was only permitted to shower 2 or 3 times while he was detained. Officers would only let him sleep for short durations of time before they would wake him up to conduct roll call, speak with children, or clean the cell. There was not enough space in the cell for everyone to sleep at the same time. He says that the other children cried a lot, because the officers were not nice to them, but he did not want to elaborate on what he meant because he was afraid to share further details.
  • Mikayla [pseudonym of a 15-year-old minor] further reports that during their 16-day detention, she and her brothers were only permitted to shower and change their clothes approximately 3 times, and that they were only permitted to brush their teeth twice. They were held with approximately 100 children, in a cell that Mikayla estimates could only fit 25 children comfortably.… It was difficult to sleep because the rooms were so crowded, the lights were almost always on, and the officers woke the children regularly to clean the cell. Furthermore, there was not sufficient space for all the children to lie down at the same time, and children quarreled over a very limited number of sleeping mats available.

— Carly Sessions, “Widespread infringement of the civil rights and civil liberties of Unaccompanied Noncitizen Children held in the custody of CBP: January – December 2021” (United States: Kids in Need of Defense, 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

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

Victim Classification: Female, Unaccompanied Child

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

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

Victim Classification: Unaccompanied Child

Late September 2021

“A Haitian mother expelled in late September 2021 begged U.S. officers to remove her handcuffs to enable her to comfort her crying young daughter on the plane ride,” read a Human Rights First report, citing Blaine Bookey from the U.C. Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies.

— Julia Neusner, Kennji Kizuka, “Illegal and Inhumane”: Biden Administration Continues Embrace of Trump Title 42 Policy as Attacks on People Seeking Refuge Mount (New York: Human Rights First, October 21, 2021) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/illegal-and-inhumane-biden-administration-continues-embrace-trump-title-42-policy-attacks.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): DHS

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Family Unit, Haiti

September, 2021

A report from Human Rights First quoted a Somali asylum seeker who spent weeks in Border Patrol custody, then failed a credible fear interview “despite apparent eligibility for asylum and redesignation of Somalia for TPS”:

“Border Patrol took me to detention . . . it was the worst nightmare that had ever happened to me. They wouldn’t give me a toothbrush for 18 days. It was harsh . . . then I had my credible fear interview around a month later . . . after all that I have gone through, they just give you one interview. After that interview, you are done . . . they deported me in September 2021.”

“I’m a Prisoner Here”: Biden Administration Policies Lock Up Asylum Seekers (New York: Human Rights First, April 21, 2022) https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/i-m-prisoner-here-biden-administration-policies-lock-asylum-seekers.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Denial of Protection to Most Vulnerable

Last Known Accountability Status: Unknown

Victim Classification: Black, Single Adult, Somalia

July 14, 2020

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that CBP misspent much money that Congress had appropriated, on an emergency basis, for consumables and medical care for children and other migrants in custody (original link).

For example, CBP obligated some of these funds for goods and services for its canine program; equipment for facility operations like printers and speakers; transportation items that did not have a primary purpose of medical care like motorcycles and dirt bikes; and facility upgrades and services like sewer system upgrades.

GAO also found that CBP and Border Patrol location were not consistently carrying out health interviews and medical assessments, despite a recent increase in deaths in custody, including deaths of children. CBP also decided not to implement a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to offer flu shots to those in custody.

The report added, “CBP does not have reliable information on deaths, serious injuries, and suicide attempts and has not consistently reported deaths of individuals in custody to Congress.”

From fiscal year 2014 through fiscal year 2019, CBP was directed to report on deaths of individuals in its custody to Congress. GAO’s review of CBP documentation and reports to Congress showed that 31 individuals died in custody along the southwest border from fiscal years 2014 through 2019, but CBP documented only 20 deaths in its reports.

Southwest Border: CBP Needs to Increase Oversight of Funds, Medical Care, and Reporting of Deaths, GAO-20-536 (Washington: U.S. Government Accountability Office, July 14, 2020) https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-20-536.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): Border Patrol, CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Disregard of Public Health, Evading Oversight, Misallocation of Funds

Last Known Accountability Status: GAO Investigation Closed

Victim Classification:

April 15, 2020

A complaint from the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties and ACLU Border Rights Center reported on CBP’s failure to implement a detainee locator system, which complicates efforts to reunify separated families:

A detainee locator system allows family members, lawyers, and other advocates to pinpoint exactly where a particular person is being held.[31] Typically, the use of such a system requires knowledge of the detainee’s country of origin and “alien number” (“A number”), or their exact full name, country of origin and date of birth. Unlike ICE, CBP has never implemented a detainee locator system, nor does it facilitate visitation or communications with family or lawyers. CBP’s refusal to do these things aggravates the harms that stem from the agency’s practice of separating family members through processing and detention. Although ICE’s system is far from perfect, advocates and families rely on it to locate their clients and loved ones.

— “Separation of Families via CBP Detention and Processing, and the Agency’s Refusal to Implement a Detainee Locator System” (San Diego and El Paso, ACLU Foundation San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU Border Rights Center, April 15, 2020) https://cbpabusestest2.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/2020-04-15-dhs-oig-cmplt-3-final.pdf.

Footnote from above:

[31]: As CBP has recognized, “[t]he intent of creating a [detainee locator system] is to provide the general public with an accessible system that would allow the public to conduct online Internet-based queries to locate persons detained by CBP for administrative and/or criminal violations.” U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, ONLINE DETAINEE LOCATOR SYSTEM (FY2017 Report to Congress), ii (Dec. 4, 2017) [hereinafter “CBP Detainee Locator Report”], https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CBP%20- %20Online%20Detainee%20Locator%20System_0.pdf.

Sector(s): Border-Wide

Agency(ies): CBP

Event Type(s): Conditions in Custody, Family Separation

Last Known Accountability Status: Shared with DHS OIG

Victim Classification: Family Unit