An undocumented Guatemalan woman living in California has filed a complaint against U.S. Customs and Border Protection alleging that one of its agents sexually harassed her, taking advantage of her vulnerable position as she waited for news about her 12-year-old son being held in custody at a Border Patrol station, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
According to the Post report, the 48-year-old woman came into contact with the agent when she tried to speak to her son. When the agent requested to keep up a conversation through Facebook, she had hoped he would help her learn about her son’s situation. Instead, she told the Post, the agent made her watch him masturbate.
According to the Post, the woman’s 12-year-old son crossed the border in April, in hopes of reuniting with his mother, who has lived in California for almost all of his life, working as a housekeeper and sending money back to her family. The woman said she had urged her son to come to America before he reached an age where he would be pressured to join gangs. The boy was taken into custody and held at the Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, where agents reached out to his mother to alert her.
She said in her complaint that two days later, she received a call from her son. Her son told her he was fine, but he didn’t know where he was. An agent took the phone and told her that he would keep her abreast of information about her son’s situation. She was grateful to have any contact inside the facility and told the Post he seemed “educated and respectful.” He suggested they speak by video chat on Facebook Messenger.
He followed through on the suggestion later that day. The Post described what the woman says happened during the 25-minute chat with the agent:
The man appeared to be lying on a bed, with the camera aimed at the lower half of his body. She could see his dark brown shorts, legs and bare feet.
She thought it strange and asked to see his face. He flashed the camera upward for a moment before settling it again on his shorts.
He told her about his family life, a failed relationship, how he attended church. Then he asked whether she was single.
She demurred … He asked her whether there were people nearby.
When she said there were not, he slipped his hand inside his shorts and appeared to start masturbating, she said.
“‘Look at me. Look at me,’ ” she remembered him pleading when she looked away. “ ‘Do you like it?’ ”
The woman said she became afraid that the agent could do something to her son, but the call ended when her phone died. The agent had sent her messages afterward with sad-face emojis, saying he “needed” her. She was upset and frightened, but the next day she texted him to ask if her son was still at the Clint facility. The agent brushed her off.
She became afraid the agent would retaliate against her son, and she reached out to an immigration legal-aid group, which filed her complaint to senior CBP officials. The complaint cited her fear of the agent and asked that her son be protected from any possible retaliation. CBP soon transferred her son to the Department of Health and Human Services for care, and in June, after CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility interviewed her about the complaint, her son was released to her. CBP told the Post on Tuesday that it was investigating the woman’s allegations.
The boy told the Post that the agent had been cruel, alleging he threatened the children, saying he would shoot them if they touched his gun or whistled at or touched girls. He also allegedly called some of the children “ugly” and warned they would “regret coming to this country,” according to the Post.
The boy’s description of the facility as unsanitary, overcrowded, and uncomfortable matched descriptions from a group of lawyers who visited the station and found the children neglected and living in filthy conditions.
Allegations of misconduct by Border Patrol agents also arose earlier in July with reporting on a secret Facebook group for current and former agents. (The current chief of CBP was also found to have participated in the group). In the group, agents mocked the deaths of migrants crossing the border and made racist and sexually degrading comments about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other congresswomen. On Monday, CBP said it was investigating 70 former and current employees for their participation in that and other secret Facebook groups.
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