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Border patrol did not provide food, shelter to migrants in makeshift camp, federal complaint alleges

For weeks, the border patrol kept hundreds of people in a makeshift migrant camp in San Ysidro without food or shelter. Now local advocates filed a federal complaint alleging inhumane conditions. KPBS border reporter Gustavo Solis spoke with one of the advocates.

A federal complaint alleges U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) failed to provide adequate food, water, shelter and medical aid to hundreds of migrants detained in a makeshift outdoor camp in San Ysidro that was exposed to the elements.

Advocates with the Southern Border Communities Coalition filed the complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties after spending weeks documenting the conditions of the camp located between primary and secondary border walls.

“What we are afraid of is if we don’t address this, it will continue to happen, and it will spread all along the southern border,” said the director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, Lilian Serrano.


CBP did not immediately respond to questions about the federal complaint or the treatment of migrants in the camp.

Advocates and volunteers describe seeing migrants suffering from diarrhea, infected wounds and severe dehydration. One case involved a 79-year-old Colombian woman who fell off the border wall and sustained injuries to her leg and other distress because of lack of medication; she was not provided medical attention by Border Patrol until after an entire day of advocacy,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges CBP violated its own detention standards. Those standards for children and pregnant individuals call for “a snack upon arrival and a meal at least every six hours thereafter, at regularly scheduled meal times. At least two of those meals will be hot. Juvenile and pregnant or nursing detainees must have regular access to snacks, milk and juice.”

Migrants, including children and pregnant women, only received one water bottle and two granola bars each day, the complaint states. All other meals came from donations through volunteers and advocates.

The complaint says sanitary standards were also not met. CBP only provided one port-a-potty for hundreds of migrants. It would often fill up, leaving people with no other place to use the restroom.


Most of the border along San Diego County has two border walls, known as the primary and secondary fences. The space between them is U.S. soil, not open to the public, is managed almost exclusively by CBP, and used as a makeshift migrant camp.

Last week before the pandemic-era asylum restrictions known as Title 42 were lifted, more than 400 people were in the camp. CBP cleared the migrant camp Monday morning.

But it is still important to file the complaint and make the agency accountable for the treatment of people under its custody, Serrano said.

“We want answers,” she said. “What was the logic behind allowing these things to happen? Who gave the orders to allow it to form? What are we going to do to make sure it stops and doesn’t happen again?”

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