The ACLU published a report on Wednesday alleging a series of horrific instances of child abuse and neglect by Customs and Border Protection officials culled from five years of official Department of Homeland Security documents—all written during the Obama administration.
Written by the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law, the newly published report is based off of more than 4,500 pages obtained from the DHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties from 2009-2014. (Given the department’s even more unrestrained attitude under Donald Trump, one can only imagine the types of abuses that could be occurring now.) It highlights physical, sexual, and psychological abuse allegedly committed against unaccompanied minors held in CPB detention centers along the southern border while they awaited either transfer to more permanent facilities or deportation.
From the report’s summary:
Children describe excessive force: being stomped on, punched, kicked, run over with vehicles, tased, and forced to maintain stress positions by CBP officials. Minors also report verbal abuse: being called a “dog,” “piece of crap, son of a bitch,” and “prostitute,” and being told they “contaminate this country.” In complaints, children describe being deprived of edible food and potable water and held in freezing and unsanitary cells with inadequate bedding and no access to personal hygiene items. Children report being threatened with rape and death, being told to remove their clothing before they are subjected to questioning, and being touched inappropriately by CBP officials.
As alarming as the allegations are, perhaps equally alarming is the response—or lack thereof—from DHS officials.
Again, from the report:
In direct violation of federal law, DHS does not appear to have reported alleged child abuse out to the FBI. Moreover, records of the investigations conducted by DHS oversight agencies like CRCL and OIG indicate systemic failures to meaningfully investigate the allegations, including a lack of independent fact finding, ineffective reporting systems, and routine closure of investigations due to agency delays and unreliable record keeping. The records provide no indication that DHS has taken any remedial or disciplinary measures to hold any individual accountable for these abuses.
In an email to Splinter, CBP spokesman Dan Hetlage pushed back against the ACLU’s claims:
The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless. The “report” equates allegations with fact, flatly ignores a number of improvements made by CBP as well as oversight conducted by outside, independent agencies, including the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties over the last decade. The OIG has already completed an investigation and found these claims unsubstantiated and did not observe misconduct or inappropriate conduct. CBP takes seriously all allegations of misconduct, but without new specifics is unable to check to commence reasonable steps to examine these assertions and address the accusations levied.
The ACLU’s report comes as the Trump administration is actively seeking to bolster its policy of separating families caught entering the U.S. without documentation. What’s more, it plans to classify those minors as “unaccompanied” even if they were with their family, should their parents be prosecuted for illegal entry.
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned in early May. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
While the abuses described in the ACLU’s report occurred in designated CBP facilities, the Trump administration has also proposed housing undocumented minors on military bases as well.