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US Border Officials Accused Of Denying Food To Asylum Seekers

Customs and Border Protection says it is investigating the allegations

Photo by Jean Guerrero

Immigration activists give people crossing the border informative pamphlets about their rights, May 13, 2015.

Aired 3/28/16 on KPBS News.

The ACLU says U.S. Customs and Border Protection has been failing to feed asylum seekers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry and cites an incident involving a transgender Mexican woman. Border officials say the incident is being investigated.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego sent a complaint letter this week to U.S. Customs and Border Protection stating that the agency has been denying food to asylum seekers awaiting processing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

Mitra Ebadolahi, border litigation attorney for the ACLU of San Diego, said this violates the U.S. Constitution as well as the agency's own policies.

The ACLU's letter, dated March 23, describes an incident in which a disabled transgender Mexican woman with post-traumatic stress disorder was allegedly denied food for more than 30 hours at the port of entry.

On Saturday, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection told KPBS in an email that the agency is reviewing the incident.

"CBP is committed to providing appropriate care for those in our custody, and takes allegations that we have not met those standards of care seriously," spokeswoman Jacqueline Wasiluk said.

The transgender woman's lawyer said she had to bring food to her client twice and received contradictory information from border officials regarding their policy for providing food and water to asylum seekers.

"That's unacceptable," said Ebadolahi, who wrote the complaint letter. "It indicates a lack of adequate training and an inability to articulate basic policies that pertain to the humane treatment of individuals seeking protection within the United States."

Lawyers with the ACLU claim the incident is part of a larger pattern of "abusive conduct" at the ports of entry.

“This is a space where officers should have sensitivity training and have additional requirements placed on them for dealing with individuals who have trauma in a way that’s very respectful and humane," Ebadolahi said.

She added that the transgender woman mentioned in the complaint was a multiple rape survivor.

"This is not someone who should be treated in the way that she was, on any level, by any single CBP officer, much less a series of CBP officers over a period of 30-plus hours," Ebadolahi said.

The letter asks the border agency to issue a formal apology as well as to publicly share its policies regarding food and water for asylum seekers awaiting processing.

Nicole Ramos, the lawyer for the transgender woman in the complaint, said her client is now in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Otay Mesa, which does not have transgender housing.

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