Getting elbowed in the stomach. Being lifted by the neck. Getting kicked in the ribs. These are all things the American Civil Liberties Union says immigrant children who crossed the border alone experienced while in custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The details were in a report released May 23 by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project in partnership with the University of Chicago Law School.
The ACLU examined 30,000 pages of documents that the group alleges revealed hundreds of incidents of abuse. The complaints were from 2009 to 2014 and recounted experiences in temporary detention centers along the border, from California through Texas, where children are held after being apprehended and before being transferred to longer-term centers or deported.
Claudia Flores, director of the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic, said three law students pored through hundreds of pages of documents. The records detailed abuse allegations and complaint resolutions, including sexual abuse and physical abuse, like punching, kicking and Tasers being used against kids.
“Many of the documents included repeated abuse,” Flores said. The group accused federal officials of failing to investigate and follow up on allegations of abuse and neglect of immigrant children.
Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Daniel Hetlage said in a statement that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General completed an investigation, including 57 unannounced visits to 41 different locations, and found that the claims were unsubstantiated.
“The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless,” he said.
Many children cross the border alone, often fleeing violence in Central America and sometimes hoping to join parents already in the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has made reducing the flow of immigrants a priority, and he specifically has targeted this trend. Trump said last week that unaccompanied children might include gang members.
Thousands of children traveling alone land in Illinois, where they are placed in juvenile detention centers, called shelters, while they await court decisions on whether they can be released to a relative, will remain in custody or will be deported.
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