Dozens of accounts of horrid conditions and abuse from officers have surfaced from migrant children at a border camp in Yuma
Terrible conditions for migrants and migrant children seeking asylum at the border have been reported for over a year now, as Central Americans fleeing violence and extreme poverty collect at our border — and now NBC has shared dozens of reports from children held at a Yuma, Arizona, border camp that include allegations of sexual abuse, verbal abuse, mistreatment, retaliation, hunger, sleep deprivation, and unsanitary conditions.
These new reports are especially disturbing because they center not on the general issue of overcrowding and lack of supplies, but on the behavior of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents.
The 30 reports were collected between April 10 and June 12 by case managers for the Department of Health and Human Services and obtained by NBC News.
Perhaps the most disturbing report is from a 15-year-old girl from Honduras who said one of the officers put his hands inside her bra, pulled down her underwear, and groped her, ostensibly during a search. The girl said “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing.”
A 16-year-old boy from Guatemala said that when he and some other children complained about the poor food, their sleeping pads were taken away, leaving them to lie on the hard, cold concrete to sleep.
Another report said that the officers would shout offensive names at the children, force them to sleep outside, or only give them mylar blankets to sleep under. One said their food was thrown at them like they were animals, and that dinner didn’t come until 9 p.m. at night, when many children couldn’t stay awake that late to eat. Multiple children said that the lights were always kept on, making it difficult to know whether it was day or night, and that they were too afraid to ask agents for things like clean clothes or showers because they feared their reactions.
One child wore soiled shorts for 10 days.
All of the kids who reported misconduct were held at the border station for longer than 72 hours before being turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is illegal.
Acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said that the allegations from migrant children are under investigation, and if officers were found to be involved in sexual misconduct or physical harassment, they would be fired.
Florida House representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican, even admitted on Wednesday that he had visited the Yuma border station in April “and the human condition that I observed in Yuma was the worst state of the human condition I have ever seen in my life.”
But Gaetz also defended the border agents, saying, “I could tell you that the Border Patrol agents and the Homeland Security agents that were there were dealing with conditions that they had not trained for, they were not equipped to handle, and they were doing the very best they could under terrible circumstances.”
Whether the agents are engaging in misconduct because of lack of training and overwhelmed conditions, or whether they are doing so out of racism or intolerance is unclear. But it is clear that the misconduct needs to be addressed and halted immediately.
Maryland House Representative Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is leading the way on a hearing about child separations and mistreatment that will take place on July 18.
BREAKING: Chairman @RepCummings announces Acting #DHS Secretary McAleenan has agreed to testify before the Oversight Committee on child separations on July 18. Hearing Advisory: https://t.co/7oa680JL13
— Oversight Committee (@OversightDems) July 10, 2019
Regarding the new reports of mistreatment, he told NBC: “These allegations are very concerning and need to be fully investigated. The president has denied any problems with these detention centers — despite multiple confirmed reports to the contrary — but it is the Trump administration’s own policies that have contributed to this humanitarian crisis and this lack of accountability.”
This is far from the first time in the last year that Customs and Border Protection has been under fire for the conditions and poor treatment at border stations. Nurses have claimed that kids are purposefully being denied treatments. Lawmakers touring the facilities say that migrants were forced to drink from toilets. And migrant kids have reported being hungry, cold, and separated from their families.