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Report: Border Patrol Not Complying With Own Standards Of Treatment For Migrants

Two women sit on their bunks combing their hair after bathing at a temporary ...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Two women sit on their bunks combing their hair after bathing at a temporary shelter for migrant families in downtown San Diego, March 27, 2019.

In October 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement ended a program that allowed migrants to contact family and arrange for travel when they were released from detention.

In response, local organizations in San Diego set up a series of shelters to give people a place to stay while they figured out their next steps.

Listen to this story by Max Riviln-Nadler.

It also gave researchers from the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties and San Diego State University a chance to find out firsthand what asylum-seekers had gone through, from crossing the border to their time in Border Patrol custody.

SDSU professor Jill Esbenshade is a co-author of the resulting report, which highlights mistreatment that migrants faced while in detention.

“Fifty percent of people said that they suffered some abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents directly,” Esbenshade told KPBS.

This included both verbal and physical abuse — 15% of that abuse was physical, the study found. Migrants also reported incredibly low temperatures in the detention centers and inadequate food.

One mother described being fed one cookie and one thin burrito once a day and another pregnant woman said she lost 15 pounds while in detention.

RELATED: Asylum-Seeker Held Incommunicado For Three Weeks By Border Patrol

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Nicholas Mcvicker

The study found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was not in compliance with its own standards for its treatment of detainees, especially when it came to medical care.

“They say that everybody should have a medical screening, that, as far as we can tell, was not happening, at least not by medical personnel," she said. "So two-thirds of adults were never screened by medical personnel, and 43% of children never saw medical personnel.”

The study surveyed 350 adults between February and April of this year, at the height of border apprehensions in the San Diego sector.

During that time, migrants spent days and sometimes weeks in detention centers that were only meant to hold people for up to 72 hours.

A spokesperson for CBP told KPBS that it “treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any misconduct,” and that it takes "all allegations seriously and investigate all formal complaints.”

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for the agency and for the county, which continues to provide support for migrants, even as the number of migrants being released into San Diego has dropped.

Local recommendations include providing more services for migrants and making the existing migrant shelter permanent. Federally, the report recommends that the agency sticks to the promises it's already made.

“They are not treating people with dignity and respect. We would ask that they comply with their own standards,” Esbenshade said.


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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover the border, which includes everything from immigration to border politics to criminal justice issues. I'm interested in how the border impacts our daily lives and those of our neighbors, especially in ways that aren't immediately clear to us.

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