A complaint was filed alleging mistreatment and abuse of unaccompanied minor immigrants while in the custody of United States immigration authorities. However, a preliminary finding by the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that his office was unable to substantiate any of the allegations of abuse.
In June, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among other groups, filed a complaint to DHS alleging “systematic abuse” of the apprehended minors. They claim one in four children in the complaint reported some type of physical abuse, most reported verbal abuse or were denied medical care. More than eighty percent reported not receiving adequate food or water. Others reported they had personal belongings confiscated, and many that they were detained longer than legally mandated.
Spokesman for DHS, Michael Friel said “while in temporary custody, CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) strives to protect unaccompanied children with special procedures and safeguards,” and that mistreatment is not tolerated. Of the children detailed in the complaint, one 13-year-old boy said he was threatened by an official with a metal rod, and sexually molested while in temporary custody. A 16-year-old girl reported she was molested during a search. Others reported not being able to sleep due to cold temperatures, and lights being on at all times.
Although other claims of abuse are still under review, in a memo to Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, inspector general John Roth was not able to substantiate 16 of the mistreatment allegations. The assessment was made based on surprise visits to CBP facilities in New Mexico and Texas, which housed immigrant minors in July. DHS monitored compliance with laws and department policies regarding the treatment of minors, including clean bathroom facilities, adequate food and water, and access to medical treatment. Another 100 allegations remain to be investigated.
James Lyall, staff attorney for the ACLU in Arizona discounted the findings, which do not address how widespread the complaints were, which are similar to thousands of other complaints filed over recent years.“The fact that they haven't been able to substantiate these allegations certainly doesn't mean that they aren't true,” Lyall said. “ In fact, allegations of verbal and physical abuse are very long-standing."
Although the number of children crossing the border has been in decline over the past couple months, in total over 60,000 immigrant children have been taken into custody over the past year. Most of the children have come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The government has been overwhelmed by the unprecedented numbers of children to be temporarily housed and cared for, before they are able to be transferred out of CBP custody.
The report is only an initial assessment regarding a limited number of the complaints alleged by the ACLU and other groups on behalf of the immigrant minors. Initially the inspectors "did not observe misconduct or inappropriate conduct by DHS employees during our unannounced site visits. However, although no criminal activity has been found to date, many allegations of abuse and mistreatment remain to be investigated.