Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
PHOENIX (CN) – The Department of Homeland Security blew off FOIA requests for information on the abuse of immigrant children in immigration custody, the ACLU claims in court.
The ACLU sued the DHS and its creatures, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, on Wednesday in Federal Court.
In its December 2014 FOIA request, the ACLU says, it sought “to shed light on longstanding allegations of abusive treatment of children by Border Patrol, including prolonged detention in degrading and inhumane conditions, as well as DHS oversight agencies’ handling of those allegations.”
None of the agencies have responded, the ACLU says.
“This case is about the systemic failure of multiple institutions to protect some of the most vulnerable among us,” ACLU of Arizona staff attorney James Lyall said in a statement. “Under any reasonable definition, the neglect and mistreatment that these children experience in Border Patrol custody qualifies as child abuse, and federal officials and contractors are required to report that abuse under applicable child protection laws.”
The ACLU and other civil rights organizations sent an administrative complaint to DHS in *June 2014, claiming 116 immigrant children had been abused by the Border Patrol.
“One quarter of these children reported physical abuse, including sexual assault, beatings, and the use of stress positions by Border Patrol agents, and more than half reported various forms of verbal abuse, including death threats,” the June complaint stated. “Many reported being denied blankets and bedding and attempting to sleep on the floors of unsanitary, overcrowded, and frigid cells.”
Eighty percent of the children said they were not properly provided with food and water, and nearly as many said they were detained for more than the 72-hour maximum. About half of the children said they were denied medical care, including a number who required hospitalization.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske acknowledged after the ACLU’s June complaint that the allegations regarding holding room conditions were “absolutely spot-on,” and said his agency and DHS would investigate.
In October, however, the Office of the Inspector General “reported it would be ‘curtailing routine inspections,’ and has issued no subsequent findings or taken any other public action in response to the complaint,” the ACLU says in the new lawsuit.
In fact, “Border Patrol restricts access to detention facilities such that attorneys, advocates, and family members are generally prohibited from meeting with detainees, many of whom are held incommunicado for days. Immigrant children – like all immigrants – have no guarantee of legal counsel in removal proceedings; without legal representation, children are far less likely to report abuse or pursue civil rights complaints involving government officials,” the complaint states.
The ACLU says that the volume of these complaints “point to systemic deficiencies in Border Patrol’s detention policies and practices, and yet the full extent of these problems is still unknown.”