Government documents show Customs & Border Protection Officials Have Abused Migrant Children
In 2014, the ACLU Border Litigation Project and partner organizations filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on behalf of 116 children who had reported abuse while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. These complaints detailed, for example, denial of medical care; verbal threats; physical and sexual abuse; and inhumane detention conditions.
Such complaints were consistent with hundreds of similar complaints dating at least as far back as 2008, documented in human rights and immigration policy reports. Some such reports include:
- William A. Kandel, Congressional Research Service, Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview (2017)
- American Immigration Council, A Guide to Children Arriving at the Border: Laws, Policies and Responses (2015)
- National Immigrant Justice Center, Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: A Policy Brief (2014)
- American Civil Liberties Union et al., Administrative Complaint re: Systemic Abuse of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (2014)
- Women’s Refugee Commission, Forced From Home: The Lost Boys and Girls of Central America (2012)
- No More Deaths, A Culture of Cruelty: Abuse and Impunity in Short-Term U.S. Border Patrol Custody (2011)
- Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Seeking Protection, Enduring Prosecution: The Treatment and Abuse of Unaccompanied Undocumented Children in Short-Term Immigration Detention (2009)
- Women’s Refugee Commission, Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Immigrant Children in Immigration Custody (2008)
The DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an oversight agency, initially responded that it would thoroughly investigate the 116 complaints. Less than four months later, however, OIG inexplicably closed its investigation.
In response, the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project—a joint project of the ACLU Foundations of Arizona and San Diego & Imperial Counties—filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to determine the scope of child abuse complaints and what investigation, if any, the government had undertaken.
The government did not timely respond to this FOIA request. Consequently, in February 2015, the ACLU, along with Cooley LLP, filed suit.
As a result of this litigation, the government has now produced over 30,000 pages of documents from four DHS sub-agencies within DHS: (1) the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL); (2) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Border Patrol’s parent agency; (3) OIG; and (4) U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
These records show a complete lack of respect not only for the fundamental human rights of thousands of children, but also for the immigration laws and procedures that Congress enacted. They also reflect systemic failures throughout DHS to hold abusive officials accountable.
Here, all records received by the ACLU in the course of this FOIA litigation are organized and published by producing agency.
The records include thousands of pages of narrative complaints, written by minors and by immigration advocates, detailing instances of harm. Also included are the DHS oversight agencies’ investigative reports, which demonstrate that complaints are routinely closed or deemed “unsubstantiated” without any meaningful investigation. Additionally, the records include audio files, checklists, notes, and photos from Border Patrol facilities inspections, which underscore CBP’s consistent failure to respect children’s dignity and human rights.
Records received from each DHS sub-agency can be accessed here:
- The Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties
- U.S. Customs & Border Protection
- DHS Office of Inspector General
- U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement