Migrant kids in overcrowded Arizona border station allege sex assault, retaliation from U.S. agents
WASHINGTON — The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News.
A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy held in Yuma, Arizona, said he and others in his cell complained about the taste of the water and food they were given. The Customs and Border Protection agents took the mats out of their cell in retaliation, forcing them to sleep on hard concrete .
A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.
The girl said "she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing" during the entire process, according to a report of her account.
A 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, and would sometimes call them "puto," an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving orders.
Earlier reports from investigators for the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General from the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors in Texas detailed horrific conditions for children and other migrants held in overcrowded border stations where they were not given showers, a clean change of clothes or space to sleep. The reports from the Yuma CBP sector describe similar unsanitary and crowded conditions but go further by alleging abuse and other misconduct by CBP officers.
President Trump has pushed back against reports of poor conditions for children, and Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of DHS, which oversees CBP, has said the reports are "unsubstantiated."
In a statement about the Yuma allegations, a CBP spokesperson said, "U.S. Customs and Border Protection treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct. ... The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated. It’s important to note that the allegation of sexual assault is already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General."
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Wednesday that the allegations are under investigation and will face multiple reviews.
"Anyone involved in sexual assault or physical harassment like that I would of course expect to be fired not merely disciplined," he said on MSNBC.
DHS had been sounding the alarm on overcrowding in border facilities for months, resulting in a $4.5 billion emergency funding bill recently passed by Congress. In Yuma, a soft-sided tent facility was opened at the end of June to accommodate overcrowding at the border station.