A 17-year-old Guatemalan boy said the children jailed at a Border Patrol facility in Yuma, Arizona, took care of each other since none of the adults in charge were taking care of them. Abner described being sleep-deprived in cold cells so crowded that the older kids tried sleeping standing up so the younger ones could sleep on the floor—but he especially remembers the hunger.
“Abner said he and his cellmates were only fed twice a day,” NBC News reported, “leading him to become very hungry.” But when the younger kids cried for food, he said the older boys would try to take care of them. "Sometimes, we would give one [hamburger] to the little ones. Because the little ones were the ones that wanted to eat more than others. At least, [the older kids could] stand the hunger a little more.” To drink water, they’d have to cup some from the lone sink with their dirty hands.
The boy said that the children were terrified of the agents, with one even punching a boy in the stomach. "With a punch they knocked the wind out of him,” he said. “But I don't know why.” There shouldn’t be any reason that is valid—he’s a child. But Abner said the guards were cruel, mocking them when they asked what time it was because the lights were always kept on. "Oh do you have a meeting to go to?” they would reply.
“A Customs and Border Protection official told NBC News that Abner's claims ‘are inconsistent with CBP’s records corresponding to the juvenile migrant’s time in custody from May 25 to June 5, 2019.’” Sure, because officials would note being cruel to kids if they were. We believe the children, because it’s not just Abner who has spoken out about abuse at Yuma. Other kids told case managers about being verbally abused by officers, corroborated crowded conditions, and even alleged sexual assault, which is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.
Like Abner, those kids described being “held at the border station longer than the 72 hours permitted by law,” NBC News reported at the time. Border officials have claimed they have to do that because Health and Human Services facilities, where these kids are supposed to be sent after the maximum 72 hours, are full. But that’s a lie, with an HHS spokesperson saying that the department “received every child that was referred to us.”
Abner was eventually transferred to an HHS facility, where he said he received better treatment, and was eventually reunited with his dad, who already lives in the U.S., which raises the question of whether his detention could have been cut much shorter. According to NBC, “Abner has four sisters back in Guatemala. He wants them to come to the United States to escape extreme poverty, but he worries about them experiencing the treatment he says he experienced at the hands of Customs and Border Protection.”