Children Say the Horrors of Border Detention Are Not Just Due to Overcrowding

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty

A new report from NBC contains allegations that children kept in a border facility in Yuma, AZ faced intentional cruelty from border agents, in addition to the indignities and suffering from overcrowding. Some described sexual assaults by agents, while others described retaliation from agents when they complained about conditions.

One 16-year-old Guatemalan boy held in Yuma said in a report obtained by NBC that he and others had complained about the bad taste of the water and food they were given. He said that Customs and Border Protection took mats out of the cell in retribution, forcing him and others to sleep on the hard concrete floor.

A 15-year-old girl alleged that CBP officers sexually assaulted her.

From NBC:

A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.

The girl said “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing” during the entire process, according to a report of her account.

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Others described officers reprimanded children for getting close to windows and would call them “puto,” a derogatory Spanish slang term.

A statement from CBP given to NBC said “U.S. Customs and Border Protection treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct... The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated. It’s important to note that the allegation of sexual assault is already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.”

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Of course, we know that things like this do regularly occur in CBP’s detention facilities. Multiple reports in the past month have detailed horrifying conditions in CBP and ICE facilities that include overcrowding, widespread sickness, and insufficient amenities. A further report from last week found that CBP had been aware of these conditions for months.

The children in these reports however, also alleged poor conditions that were intentional, not just the result of overcrowding or underfunding.

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One child described in an incident report collected by NBC “sometimes going to bed hungry because dinner was usually served sometime after 9 p.m. and by that time she was already asleep.”

The children were all held in these centers for longer than the 72 hours that is permitted by law.

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“The children that we represent have reported being held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions for days,” Laura Belous, an attorney with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, told NBC. “Our clients tell us that they have seen CBP agents kick other children awake, that children do not know whether it’s day or night because lights are left on all the time, and that they have had food thrown at them like they were wild animals.”

“Our clients and all migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” she added.

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But the children in these also reported horrendous overcrowding. One child described having no room on the floor to sleep.

“He shared that there was not always space on the floor as there were too many people in the room. He further shared that there would be room available when someone would stand up,” the report read.

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“These allegations are very concerning and need to be fully investigated,” House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a statement. “The president has denied any problems with these detention centers—despite multiple confirmed reports to the contrary—but it is the Trump administration’s own policies that have contributed to this humanitarian crisis and this lack of accountability.”

Read the rest of the report at NBC.

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