Customs and Border Protection agents at a facility in Yuma, Arizona, are facing allegations of sexual assault and mistreatment of migrant children, according to documents obtained by NBC News. The outlet reviewed nearly 30 accounts from government case managers dating from April 10 to June 12 that detail an environment in which kids were allegedly neglected, denied basic provisions, and verbally and physically abused by those running the facilities. This mirrors the dismal conditions that have been criticized in Texas border facilities, like those in El Paso and Rio Grande Valley.
One 15-year-old Honduran girl described being sexually assaulted by a CBP agent during a pat-down. She said the agent “put his hands down her bra, pulled down her underwear and groped her” while laughing and speaking to other agents in English, leaving her feeling humiliated.
In another case, a boy recounted officers using offensive slurs in Spanish, calling children “puto” while giving orders. Retaliation by agents was also mentioned in the reports. In one such instance, after a group of children complained about the taste of their water and food, CBP agents allegedly removed the mats from their cells, leaving them to sleep on concrete. Detainees in Yuma also report being denied phone calls, regular showers and clean clothes, going to bed hungry, and being detained longer than 72 hours.
Laura Belous, an advocacy attorney for migrant children, told NBC News that she was “horrified and sickened by the allegations of abuse…But unfortunately, we are not surprised.”
These allegations come after the Yuma location opened up temporary tent facilities at the end of June to house 500 additional migrants, responding to controversy over many border facilities’ overcrowding problem and their inability to provide detainees with basic hygienic resources.
CBP confirmed to the Washington Post that all of the allegations are currently under investigation and that the sexual assault allegation is being handled by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. In a statement in response to the Yuma reports, the agency said that the conditions described “do not align with common practice at our facilities.”
President Trump has denied mistreatment or unsanitary conditions in border facilities. Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, also dismissed the reports as “unsubstantiated.” McAleenan will be testifying on the administration’s family separation policy before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 18.