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Gabriela Melendez, ACLU San Diego & Imperial Counties:

Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union featured in a new report released today show the pervasive abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The report was produced in conjunction with the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.

The report is based on over 30,000 pages of documents dated between 2009 and 2014. The documents were obtained by the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the ACLU Foundation of Arizona through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit co-counseled with Cooley LLP. The documents feature numerous cases of shocking violence and abuse against migrant children, many of whom arrived in the United States fleeing violence in their home countries.

The documents show numerous cases involving federal officials’ verbal, physical and sexual abuse of migrant children; the denial of clean drinking water and adequate food; failure to provide necessary medical care; detention in freezing, unsanitary facilities; and other violations of federal law and policy and international law. The documents provide evidence that U.S. officials were aware of these abuses as they occurred, but failed to properly investigate, much less to remedy, these abuses.

Examples of the documented abuses include allegations that CBP officials:

  • Punched a child’s head three times
  • Kicked a child in the ribs
  • Used a stun gun on a boy, causing him to fall to the ground, shaking, with his eyes rolling back in his head
  • Ran over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle and then punched him several times
  • Verbally abused detained children, calling them dogs and “other ugly things”
  • Denied detained children permission to stand or move freely for days and threatened children who stood up with transfer to solitary confinement in a small, freezing room
  • Denied a pregnant minor medical attention when she reported pain, which preceded a stillbirth
  • Subjected a 16-year-old girl to a search in which they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed”
  • Left a 4-pound premature baby and her minor mother in an overcrowded and dirty cell full of sick people, against medical advice
  • Threw out a child’s birth certificate and threatened him with sexual abuse by an adult male detainee.

The report also shows evidence of CBP holding migrant children in excess of the 72-hour maximum period permitted by law, as well as officials’ efforts to deport children without due process and via coercion.

The report provides an overview of key trends that converged to create a crisis of migrant child abuse in CBP custody, the largest federal law enforcement agency in the United States. The documents obtained from the government show no evidence that any of the abuses detailed therein were ever meaningfully investigated, much less that the officials responsible were held accountable.

Paul Ciano

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