A migrant girl says that a border agent sexually assaulted her, “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,” NBC News reports. The 15-year-old described being humiliated as the agent laughed “with other officers during the entire process.”
This assault is just one of nearly 30 "significant incident reports" written up by Health and Human Services case managers during April and June intakes of migrant children released from Customs and Border Protection custody. Other children at the Yuma, Arizona, facility described not being allowed to shower and being packed in rooms so crowded that they had to take turns sleep on the floor. “All children who gave accounts to case managers had been held at the border station longer than the 72 hours permitted by law.”
“The reports from the Yuma CBP sector describe similar unsanitary and crowded conditions but go further by alleging abuse and other misconduct by CBP officers,” NBC News continues. Specifically, some children said agents “hurled derogatory language at them,” The Washington Post reported, including “puto,” which is an anti-gay slur in many Spanish-speaking countries. Other kids said that when children complained about water tasting like chlorine, officers took their sleeping mats, forcing them to sleep on concrete.
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Many of the accusations would have likely triggered welfare checks had a child reported them about their parent, but NBC News reports that only the sexual assault is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general. Border officials didn’t appear to deny the reports either, claiming in a statement that “the allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated.”
But despite their claims, abuse is common practice among border officials. After all, the federal government hasn’t paid out over $60 million in settlements over a decade because it’s felt generous, it’s paid it out to settle allegations of wrongful detention, assault, and death at the hands of border agents. The treatment of migrant children by immigration officials, in particular, has repeatedly earned the United States the rebuke of the United Nations.
“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” said Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stating that “detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions” is still harmful. But the kids from the reports are describing anything but good conditions.
"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,” said Laura Belous, an attorney with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. “Our clients and all migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect."