Skip to main content

Documents Reveal Serious Abuse Allegations By Minors In Border Patrol Custody

Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U....

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Border Patrol agents hold a news conference prior to a media tour of a new U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary facility near the Donna International Bridge, Thursday, May 2, 2019, in Donna, Texas.

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

A new trove of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union sheds light on years of alleged abuse of detained minors by Border Patrol agents.

Aired: October 17, 2019 | Transcript

A new trove of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union sheds light on years of alleged abuse of minors by Border Patrol agents as the kids were held in Customs and Border Protection custody.

The 35,000 heavily-redacted pages were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union after a lengthy court battle with the Department of Homeland Security over a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

They contain hundreds of instances of minors who claim they were abused by Border Patrol agents all along the U.S.-Mexico Border.

The children say they were beaten while handcuffed, run over by ATVs, and bitten by dogs being handled by agents. The complaints cover the years between 2009 and 2014.

DHS followed up on many of the complaints but did not release its findings to the public. Parts of these investigations have now been released as a result of the litigation.

RELATED: Study: Stricter Border Enforcement May Lead To More CBP Corruption

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Andi Dukleth

“A lot of these investigations are closed,” said Sarah Thompson, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “They all happen in a black box. The individual investigations of what the results were for the individual kids, all of that happens behind closed doors, and we only know some of that because of the FOIA request.”

The documents, along with audio and video interviews of agents and minors, paint a disturbing picture of the treatment of unaccompanied children in Border Patrol custody after they’re caught trying to cross the border.

In one video, a teenage girl describes being made to fully undress after her arrest by a Border Patrol agent.

A 2009 allegation details a Border Patrol agent putting his hand down a teenage girl’s waistband. A 2014 allegation describes stripping a teenage boy down to his underwear and leaving him in a cold room for hours. And another has a Border Patrol agent hitting a teenager with a flashlight as he calls them a liar.

“These documents absolutely show how the culture of this type of behavior and abuse is very deeply rooted in the agency and not the result of a few bad apples as they like to say,” Thompson said.

While the documents don’t cover any allegations from over the past five years, the ACLU says that the type of abuse alleged by CBP remains common inside the agency, especially as Central American migrants have filled Border Patrol stations over the past year.

This week, KPBS broke the story of a 9-year-old held in Border Patrol custody, whose lawyers said was not receiving medical care for a stomach ailment.

“We don’t have any evidence that anything has changed. And in fact, it seems that things are just getting worse and worse,” Thompson said. “So I think one of the big functions of this batch of documents, it’s very voluminous and I don’t expect anyone to go through the whole thing, but I think the long timeline of it — these records started in 2009, 10 years ago and we’re still dealing with these issues today.”

The ACLU hopes that journalists, politicians, lobbyists, and others will dig into the documents to learn more about the extent of the allegations.

Customs and Border Protection has not yet responded to a request for comment on the documents.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.