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12 Jun, 2014 01:12

Immigration groups accuse US customs officials of abusing minors

Immigration groups accuse US customs officials of abusing minors

A coalition of immigrant advocacy organizations filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday, claiming systemic abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children by US Customs and Border Protection.

The groups filed the complaint on behalf of 116 unaccompanied immigrant children, ranging in age from five to 17 years old, “who experienced abuse and mistreatment while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes U.S. Border Patrol,” the document said, asking DHS to investigate the allegations.

According to the complaint, one in four of the children “reported some form of physical abuse, including sexual assault, beatings and the use of stress positions by CBP officials,” while more than half of the 116 children reported various forms of verbal abuse and denial of medical care. The verbal abuse included racially and sexually charged comments and death threats, according to the groups.

“Children consistently reported being held in unsanitary, overcrowded, and freezing-cold cells, and roughly 70 percent reported being held beyond the legally mandated 72-hour period. Many reported being detained without blankets and having to sleep on the floor, with the lights left on,” the complaint continued.

“More than 80 percent described denial of adequate food and water in CBP custody, including a child who se only available drinking water came from a toilet tank and others who received only frozen or spoiled food and subsequently became ill.”

The document added, “The sheer volume and consistency of these complaints reflects longstanding, systemic problems with CBP policy and practices. Unfortunately, the abuse of unaccompanied children by U.S. immigration officials is not a new phenomenon.”

The complaint, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Border Litigation Project, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and the National Immigrant Justice Center, comes on the heels of revelations that the US cannot cope with recent surge in illegal immigrant children coming across the southern border, the Guardian reports.

As RT reported previously, the Border Patrol in Texas found itself dealing with as many as 48,000 children crossing into the US through the Rio Grande Valley. Unable to deal with so many people locally, the Department of Homeland security transferred many to Arizona and other facilities. But Arizona was unprepared to cope with over 1,000 children sent to the state.

"I am disturbed and outraged that President Obama's administration continues to implement this dangerous and inhumane policy," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a written statement on Friday, referring to the transfer of children to sites in her state.

"Not only does the federal government have no plan to stop this disgraceful policy, it also has no plan to deal with the endless waves of illegal aliens once they are released here."

Many of the children interviewed for the complaint fled countries where they faced violence and persecution, only to be subject to abuse by CBP officials in the US.

“Children are fleeing untenable conditions in their home countries, including pervasive violence and persecution, and are often re-victimized in transit to the United States,” Joseph Anderson, director of litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice, said in the coalition’s statement. “We need to ensure that these children are treated with dignity and respect and afforded all applicable legal protections while they are in U.S. custody.”

The group is asking for enhanced oversight of the CBP agency via an independent body that would promptly and thoroughly investigate complaints of abuse and publish public reports of its findings, as well as the creation of binding and enforceable short-term detention standards that would create humane conditions for detainees.

“Border agents operate in a zone of impunity,” said James Lyall of the ACLU Border Litigation Project. “Given CBP’s recent promise to be more accountable and transparent, we call on the agency to finally address these systemic abuses in a serious and meaningful way.”

The coalition’s goal is to protect the children and give them access to medical care, food and sanitary conditions. They also want children to be able to easily and safely file complaints against officials who abuse them.

“Border Patrol agents are committing appalling abuses of children all along the border,” Ashley Huebner, managing attorney of the Immigrant Children’s Protection Project at the National Immigrant Justice Center said in the statement. “Even worse, Border Patrol has been committing these abuses for years, and our organizations have notified the agency numerous times, yet nothing has changed. The recent increase in arrivals of young people at the border makes it especially urgent that CBP ensure all children in their custody are treated safely and humanely.”

CBP’s head of internal affairs, James Tomsheck, was removed from his post on Monday due to concerns he did not thoroughly investigate the allegations of abuse and use of force by the agency’s employees. He will be replaced by FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Inspections Mark Morgan on an interim basis later in June, the Washington Post reported.

Yet amid the ongoing reports of poor conditions and allegations of abuse by American officials, the Obama administration announced Tuesday it is designating a third military base - an Army base in Fort Sill, Okla. - to house children illegally entering the United States.