Groups allege abuse of child immigrants at border

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Unaccompanied children arrested by U.S.
border authorities are packed in frigid cells and sleep on hard floors
without enough food or medical care, advocacy groups said in a complaint
Wednesday that alleges widespread abuses amid a surge of illegal
crossings by young immigrants from strife-torn Central American
countries.
The Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project and four other
groups produced 116 allegations of abuse of children who were in Customs
and Border Protection custody. They said more than 80 percent received
inadequate food and water, about half were denied medical care, and
about one of every four was physically abused.
A 13-year-old boy
said he was threatened by an official with a metal rod and was later
sexually molested while in custody, a 14-year-old girl reported her
asthma inhaler was confiscated, and a 14-year-old boy was unable to
sleep for five days because the lights were always on. A 16-year-old boy
said an official told him, "You are in my country now, and we are going
to bury you in a hole."
The allegations described in the
administrative complaint to the Department of Homeland Security were
based on interviews with the children from around March to May. The
complaint doesn’t provide dates of the alleged abuse, but authors said
much of it occurred over the last year. The locations are not listed
because, the authors said, the children were frequently shuttled around
and didn’t know where they were.
The children were identified only
by initials in a 25-page version of the complaint that was made public
but the authors said they provided names and other biographical
information to the Homeland Security’s inspector general and office
civil rights and civil liberties. They urged the department to
investigate the complaints, punish any wrongdoing and make its findings
public.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that it
does not tolerate misconduct and was providing food, medical care and
other basic services under constant supervision, while working to
transfer children to the Department of Health and Human Services within
72 hours, as required by law. It said "extraordinary measures" were
being taken in response to an overwhelming tide of children crossing in
South Texas.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees
Customs and Border Protection, did not immediately respond to a request
for comment.
"This should be the final straw. These children’s
stories are horrific," said James Lyall of the American Civil Liberties
Union’s Border Litigation Project, which joined Americans for Immigrant
Justice, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Florence
Immigrant Rights & Refugee Project. The groups work closely with the
children after they are released.
Customs and Border Protection
arrested 47,017 unaccompanied children on the border from October
through May, up 92 percent from the same period a year earlier. A draft
Border Patrol memorandum estimates that number could reach 90,000 in the
fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up from a previous government estimate of
60,000.
Last week, President Barack Obama declared a crisis and
appointed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lead the
government’s response. Hundreds of children have been flown to a
makeshift shelter at a Border Patrol station in Nogales, Arizona, while
the Defense Department prepares military bases in California, Oklahoma
and Texas, for temporary housing.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh
Johnson told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that violence in
Central America is main driver but acknowledged that parents likely know
their children will be released to the Department of Health and Human
Services, "which very often means reuniting them with their parents."
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Associated Press writer Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report from Washington.