The American Civil Liberties Union has released a report based on some 30,000 pages of internal records from the Department of Homeland Security between 2009 to 2014, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. What they’ve found is what they call “the pervasive abuse and neglect of unaccompanied immigrant children detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”
Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney with the ACLU, says the documents offer a glimpse into a federal immigration system marked by brutality and lawlessness.
“The documents reveal mistreatment that is neglectful at best and intentionally cruel at worst,” she says, “including verbal abuse, such as calling immigrant children ‘dogs’ or ‘garbage.’ One migrant minor who was pregnant was told that her child would contaminate this country. That’s a quote. Children were threatened with rape and death.”
She says the documents include allegations of physical abuse – small children were shot with tasers and run over by patrol vehicles – and sexual abuse. Ebadolahi says in one case, a teenage girl was subjected to a search in which border agents forcefully spread her legs and touched her genitals.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities are not equipped for detention lasting more than 72 hours, she says.
“The facilities are freezing cold. They were overcrowded. There’s evidence that they were unsanitary,” she says. “They were not given potable water. They were not given bedding, or necessary medical care.”
Ebadolahi says the abuses could have come to light sooner if documents were more accessible to the public.
“The government has fought tooth and nail to resist responding to our [Freedom of Information Act] request, which has necessitated years of litigation in federal court in order to get these documents,” she says. “Part of the delay is because the agencies are not being forthcoming, and are doing everything that they can to avoid providing the public with timely information about how they’re using our tax dollars.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection responded to the ACLU report, saying, “The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless,” adding that many of the instances outlined in the report were allegations.
Written by Jen Rice.