Two young women from Guatemala claim a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer sexually assaulted them at a field office in Texas. The sisters were 19 and 17 years old during the alleged July 2016 attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed two claims on behalf of the sisters under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the federal government and seek monetary damages.
The sisters say they were lost when they encountered CBP officers after crossing the Texas-Chihuahua, Mexico, border. They flagged down the officers and were initially relieved to find help, but things changed when an officer allegedly took them into a "closet-like-room" one at a time and told them to remove all their clothes, according to the claim.
"We fled Guatemala because we lived in fear and then we came here and this happened to us," said the older sister, only identified as Clarita, during a press call. (Her sister, a minor, has not been named.)
The ACLU published a letter written by Clarita detailing the graphic account of what she claims followed after they were allegedly taken into the small room by the CBP officer:
The room had no windows or furniture and had food in it. It seemed like a pantry, which made me wonder why he brought me here. The whole situation felt strange from the beginning.
Once in the closet-like-room, the officer blocked the door and asked me to remove my sweater, shirt, and tank top. He said this was to make sure I wasn’t carrying anything illegal. But he didn’t stop there. He lifted my bra, placed his hands inside, and caressed my breasts.
He then demanded I remove my pants and tights. I tried to calm him down and reassured him I had nothing to hide, but he started to forcefully pull down my underwear. He touched me inappropriately, running his hand over my vagina.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told Fusion the agency cannot comment on pending litigation but said they "take allegations of misconduct seriously and there is no room in CBP for the mistreatment or misconduct of any kind toward those in our custody."
The CBP spokesperson did not comment when asked if the officer named in the complaint has been questioned or disciplined.
The sisters are each suing the federal government for $750,000 for the personal injuries the sisters suffered, according to the complaint. Attorneys said the two sisters continue to suffer severe emotional distress as a result of the alleged assault.
Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney with the Border Litigation Project with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said this case raises even more concerns about a hiring spree the Trump administration has proposed that includes rapidly hiring 5,000 additional border patrol agents. She expressed reservations about officers not being properly vetted during the hiring surge, considering previous abuse reports against the CBP have resulted in little to no accountability. In 2014, the ACLU filed an administrative complaint on behalf of more than 100 children who reported being verbally, sexually, and physically abused while they were in CBP custody.
“CBP must be held accountable for its officer’s sexual abuse of these vulnerable victims,” said ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Angélica Salceda, in a statement sent press. “There has been no criminal prosecution against the officer involved. CBP is not above the law, and its abuses of power must not be tolerated.”