SAN DIEGO (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday released documents detailing widespread allegations of misconduct by U.S. border authorities toward children, including kicking one in the ribs, denying medical attention to a pregnant teen who complained of pain and threatening others with sexual abuse.
Its report is based on more than 30,000 pages of government documents in response to Freedom of Information Act requests and a subsequent lawsuit. The allegations date from 2009 to 2014 and, according to its authors, number in the hundreds.
Customs and Border Protection strongly denied the claims, as it has rejected similar accusations of widespread excessive use of force in recent years. The documents compiled by the Homeland Security Department's Office of Civil Litigation and Civil Rights for the ACLU are partially redacted, making it more difficult to assess the allegations and findings.
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Homeland Security's internal watchdog agency has reviewed the claims and found them unsubstantiated, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Dan Hetlage. In 2014, the department's inspector general investigated 16 cases of alleged child neglect and abuse — out of 116 that advocacy groups had compiled — and reported that federal prosecutors declined to file charges because there was no evidence of crimes.
"The false accusations made by the ACLU against the previous administration are unfounded and baseless," said Hetlage.
Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney for the ACLU's border litigation project, said the quantity of the allegations as well as their consistency — spanning several years and several states and coming from children with differing backgrounds — indicates some level of truth.
"These records document a pattern of intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, refusal of medical services, and improper deportation between 2009 and 2014. These records also reveal the absence of meaningful internal or external agency oversight and accountability," says the report, which was co-authored by the University of Chicago Law School's International Human Rights Clinic.
The ACLU began publishing the government documents online Wednesday and plans to post material, including audio recordings. Among the cases described in the initial release of documents:
- A 15-year-old girl traveling alone said a Border Patrol agent in Campo, California, threatened to rape her and put her in foster care while deporting the rest of her family if she didn't volunteer to return to Mexico. A Customs and Border Protection investigation found no wrongdoing;
- A 13-year-old boy who was held at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas, said he was assigned to a "freezing cold room" with nothing more than boxer shorts for 24 hours;
- A 16-year-old girl says she and her 2-year-old brother were detained for four days by the Border Patrol in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, sleeping on the floor without blankets and were not allowed to shower or brush their teeth.