Border patrol agents threatened migrant children with death, sexual abuse, ACLU says

In this June 18, 2014, pool file photo, detainees walk in a line at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas.
In this June 18, 2014, pool file photo, detainees walk in a line at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas. Associated Press

Migrant children in custody of United States Customs and Border Protection officers were routinely beaten, kicked and shocked with Tasers, and some were threatened with sexual violence or death, according to a report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The documents detail allegations made by migrant children who say that border patrol agents used unnecessary and illegal force in detaining them between 2009 and 2014. The children's accounts include brutal, detailed accusations of physical and mental abuse allegedly suffered at the hands of the officers.

The ACLU also alleges that CBP leadership knew of the sharp rise in complaints against its officers and did nothing to stop the abusive practices. The report is based on 30,000 pages of government documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and lawsuit.

Most of the children in the report were coming to the U.S. from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

CBP officials told Newsweek, though, that many of the claims in the ACLU report have been investigated and were deemed false.

One such claim is that of Jahveel Ocampo, who was 15 years old and undocumented living in California when she says she was rounded up by CBP agents, separated from her 2-year-old child and threatened with rape.

This September, 2015, file image made from U.S. Border Patrol surveillance video shows a child crawling on the concrete floor near the bathroom area of a holding cell, and a woman and children wrapped in Mylar sheets at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Douglas, Ariz. U.S. Border Patrol via Associated Press

According to the complaint she filed with CBP, which was one of the thousands the ACLU won access to in the Freedom of Information lawsuit, she refused to sign her own deportation order.

That's when one agent allegedly told her in Spanish, "Right now, we close the door, we rape you and f--- you. If you cooperate with us, we can deport you to Mexico. Otherwise, we will take you to jail and deport your entire family.”

So she signed.

Other accounts in the report allege more straightforward physical abuse. A 13-year-old unaccompanied minor surrendered to CBP officials near Imperial Beach, California. He says a border security agent grabbed him by the neck, kicked him in the shins, causing him to fall, and then kicked again as he was taken to a detention center.

Another complaint detailed an allegation brought by one child who was "run over by a CBP truck," causing significant trauma to the child's leg. The complaint also claimed that CBP officials "did not take proper care of the child's injury" and that doctors later diagnosed the child with a broken leg.

And in another incident, a 16-year-old girl said agents mocked her by asking her "why she did not ask the Mexicans for help," before subjecting her to a search in which they "forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard she screamed."

Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage told The Associated Press that the Homeland Security Department's internal watchdog organization has seen the claims and deemed them "unsubstantiated." He added that in 2014, the most recent year included in the ACLU report, Homeland Security investigated 16 allegations of child abuse and neglect on the part of CBP agents, out of 116 that advocacy groups brought to them.

Federal prosecutors declined to file charges in any of those 16, citing a lack of evidence, according to the AP.

"These records show a complete lack of respect, not only for the fundamental rights of thousands of children, but also for the immigration laws and procedures that Congress enacted," an ACLU statement said. "They also reflect systemic failures throughout DHS to hold abusive officials accountable."

The ACLU released the report in partnership with the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.