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Being run over by a vehicle, beaten while handcuffed, and even threatened with rape — they’re all examples of the treatment migrant children and teenagers have said they endured while in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.
Some of the kids claim officers hit them for no reason. One boy said officers accused him of lying about his age and told him he’d be raped by an adult man if he didn’t tell the truth.
The documents, which ACLU of San Diego obtained through a FOIA request, relate to allegations of abuse made against Customs and Border Protection officers by people in custody, or made by people on their behalf, between 2009 and 2014. The documents predate the Trump administration — but the ACLU says they’re indicative of a broader pattern of abuse and mistreatment within the Customs and Border Protection, one of the largest law enforcement agency in the country.
“This didn’t happen overnight,” Mitra Ebadolahi, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego, told VICE News. “For those of us who have been paying attention to those problems for many years, unfortunately much of what has happened more recently — although devastating and truly horrifying — is not necessarily surprising.”
Here are some of the allegations in the 35,000 pages of documents.
Coercion and abuse
One 16-year-old Guatemalan boy claimed he was verbally abused and strip-searched while in custody in 2013. He said two agents accused him of lying about his age and falsifying his documents, and then told him he’d be sexually abused by an adult detainee if he didn’t tell the truth. One of the agents told the boy to remove his clothing, searched him, and continued to interview him about his age while he was undressed, according to the incident report.
Another Mexican minor said officers in Texas verbally harassed him while they drove to a processing station. At one point, according to a May 2013 incident report filed by an officer, the agents took him out of the van and told him he was going to be raped. “Well take off my handcuffs so I can defend myself,” he replied.
The agents said the boy would be beat up if he resisted, according to the document. One agent also allegedly pulled out his pepper spray and held it to the boy’s face and told him he’d be sprayed if he fought back.
Several documents show the lengths migrants went to to hide from Border Patrol officers, and the lengths those officers went to to catch them. In one instance, an officer told his supervisors that he doesn’t mind when migrants flee, “because he actually enjoys the chase” according to an affidavit.
But the chase can quickly become violent. One officer filed an incident report after two Mexican nationals said officers in Texas ran them over with ATVs. One said the vehicle ran over his right foot, the other, his lower back. Both were “given a voluntary return to Mexico,” according to documents.
Another migrant, who attempted to hide from a Border Patrol agent under a parked car, said the officer dragged him out and called him “motherfucker,” “puto,” and verga.” In a separate memo related to the incident, the same officer justified the use of force, saying he “escalated the level of force necessary to gain compliance as per my instruction from the Border Patrol academy.”
Taken together, the documents provide some insight into the way CBP handles allegations of abuse and mistreatment. But sometimes the reports are closed or transferred before they can be investigated. That the case with a July 2010 report in which an underage migrant said an officer shoved him into a fence and shocked him with a taser gun.
Beaten while handcuffed
Many children and teenagers said the officers beat them after they had been arrested, sometimes while they were already in handcuffs.
One report was filed after a Mexican minor — whose age isn’t disclosed in the documents — said officer who hit him in the face while he was already cuffed. Another Mexican minor said a border agent “kneed him on his head four or five times after being handcuffed,” according to a June 2013 report.
Another boy, a 15-year-old from Guatemala, said officers hit him in the mouth after handcuffing him during his arrest in the desert and that an officer choked him after he asked for food, an incident report shows. When he made it to the Border Patrol processing station, he said he wasn’t given any blankets during his two-day detention or provided with an interpreter to translate documents or instructions for him.
Cover image: In this March 27, 2019, file photo, Central American migrants wait for food in a pen erected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to process a surge of migrant families and unaccompanied minors in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio, File)