CORRECTION: A previous version of this article was accompanied by a photo of a Border Patrol Agent. The photo has been removed because the agent in the photo was not involved in the events described in the article. We apologize to the agent for the use of his photo in connection with the article.
As a detained 16-year-old immigrant waited in her cell with her infant child, a Border Patrol stood in the doorway and warned her, “Right now, we close the door, we rape you and fuck you.” On a separate occasion, an agent tossed an immigrant child to the ground, leveled a gun at him, and told the kid, “Stop or I will shoot you.” A group of officers once told several pregnant girls that they’d "come to contaminate this country with all those things. Look at all those other girls, all fat.”
These incidents, and dozens of similar allegations of child abuse by Border Patrol agents, are all detailed in a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Border Litigation Project and the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law. All of the incidents, which are drawn from complaints filed with a Department of Homeland Security watchdog agency and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, took place between 2009 and 2014, under the Obama administration.
“The records show that the leadership at Customs and Border Protection were well aware of the allegations of unlawful child abuse — including people still now directing the agency — yet there is no indication that any individual official was ever held accountable for abuse,” Mitra Ebadolahi, a staff attorney with the Border Litigation project and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, wrote in a blog post accompanying the report’s release. (CBP oversees the Border Patrol.)
CBP flatly denied the allegations in the ACLU report.
“The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless,” CBP spokesperson Dan Hetlage said in a statement, adding the ACLU’s report “ignores a number of improvements” and oversight mechanisms implemented by the CBP. “The [Office of Inspector General] has already completed an investigation and found these claims unsubstantiated and did not observe misconduct or inappropriate conduct. CBP takes seriously all allegations of misconduct, but without new specifics is unable to check to commence reasonable steps to examine these assertions and address the accusations levied.”
Officers are only allowed to use force that’s “objectively reasonable,” and when “doing so is necessary to carry out their law enforcement duties,” the ACLU report notes. They’re also instructed to “treat all individuals with dignity and respect.” But the ACLU alleges that the Border Patrol frequently broke its own rules around how to treat minors.
One Border Patrol agent ran over a teenager with a patrol car, then punched the teen in the head and body multiple times.
Another called a child a “she-male,” adding, “These people just come here to get a sex change operation.”
Even though a doctor told a minor who’d recently given birth to keep her premature, four-pound baby away from other people, agents placed the minor inside a “dirty hold room” for two days. The room, the complaint says, “was full of garbage and sick people.”
Multiple minors said that Border Patrol agents refused to give them milk for their infants. One said her child became sick after agents gave her spoiled milk; agents then refused to give her medicine for two days.
A 15-year-old also said an agent touched her thigh, just days after she saw the same agent put his hand between the legs of another female detainee.
These incidents, Ebadolahi wrote, are “part of a pattern of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by Customs and Border Protection officials against child immigrants that existed long before President Trump emboldened the agency by unleashing its officers to enforce his draconian immigration policies.”
While deportations swelled to record numbers under President Barack Obama, Trump has made no secret of his plans to embolden the Border Patrol. Though his oft-touted border wall will likely never be completely built, Trump asked Congress to bump funding for CBP and Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) by 22 percent. During one tirade at Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump reportedly shouted of the border, “We’re closed!”
Cover image: Undocumented immigrant families turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents on July 21, 2014 in McAllen, Texas. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.
A previous version of this article was accompanied by a photo of a Border Patrol Agent. The photo has been removed because the agent in the photo was not involved in the events described in the article. We apologize to the agent for the use of his photo in connection with the article.