Sixteen-year-old G.G. says she was apprehended in Texas by Border Patrol agents who told her they would kill her if she tried to run. "Your little scheme won't work to keep you here in the U.S.," an agent reportedly told her, accusing G.G. of lying when she told them her age. She says she was detained by Customs and Border Protection for a total of nine days in five different detention centers—each one worse than the last. CBP officials allegedly fed her moldy bread and, when she vomited from the food, accused her of being pregnant and called her a "dirty liar." Her bed consisted of a thin sheet of paper on the floor of her cell and the bathroom, without doors or garbage cans, was covered in used toilet paper and sanitary pads. "You're the garbage that contaminates this country," CBP officials reportedly told her.
This is just one of 116 different, yet equally horrifying, individual tales included in a report released Tuesday (PDF) on alleged rampant abuses by U.S. Customs and Border Protection—the federal agency that includes Border Patrol—against unaccompanied immigrant children. The rapid influx of kids, many of them from Central America, illegally crossing the border into Texas over the past few months has captured recent headlines. Unable to accommodate all of the children apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, Customs and Border Protection have been sending unaccompanied minors by the hundreds to detention centers in Arizona over the past few days and even more are expected. According to a recent investigation by Mother Jones, 70,000 kids will cross the border without parents this year. As senior administration officials confirmed during a media conference call earlier this week, the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that includes Customs and Border Protection, was in no way prepared for the high volume of undocumented children and, as such, are scrambling to accommodate them.
But CBP detention facilities have long been the epicenter of what many adult immigrants claim are severe human and civil rights abuses by officials. According to a complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union's Border Litigation project and four other immigrants rights groups, child detainees are equally—if not more often—subjected to the same harsh conditions and physical, verbal and sexual abuse reported by their adult counterparts. Consistent, too, with a recent report by the American Immigration Council that 97 percent of Border Patrol complaints filed between 2009 and 2012 did not result in any action, children who report abuses to CBP officials mostly are ignored.
Spotlighting jarring testimonies from detained immigrant children, the groups concluded that such abuse is systemic and called on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate these alleged violations and implement policy changes to combat them.
According to the complaint, many of the children who cross alone and end up in detention are fleeing violence and extreme poverty in their home countries, mostly in Central America. Many of them have been subjected to abuse or trauma not only at home but also on their journeys through Mexico to the United States border, and are particularly vulnerable upon arrival.