(KFYI News) – A coalition of advocacy groups says it has documented more than 100 allegations of mistreatment of unaccompanied immigrant children arrested by U.S. border authorities.
The groups, including the ACLU, filed an administrative complaint Wednesday with the Department of Homeland Security – the parent agency for Customs and Border Protection – that says more than 80 percent of the children interviewed received inadequate food and water, about half were denied medical care, and about one of every four was physically abused. Some also reported they were sexually assaulted by CBP officers or other adults.
The Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project and four other organizations say they documented 116 cases in interviews with children who were in Customs and Border Protection custody. The interviews occurred from around March to May.
However, Joe Anderson of Americans for Immigration Justice said "we believe thousands of children have been subjected to these conditions."
In a telephone news conference Wednesday morning, Ashley Huebner, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said many of the children also complained that the detention centers in which they were held were cold, had no beds or blankets, and had toilets in public view of CBP officers and other detainees.
"There is a well-established culture of abuse and impunity within this agency," added James Lyall from the ACLU of Arizona, "and this is just the latest indication of that."
The complaint comes amid a surge of unaccompanied children from Central America. Ashley Huebner said even children are willing to risk crossing Mexico from the Central American countries where they lived to get away from conditions there.
"For many of these children, fleeing to the United States and going through the uncertain dangers of the trip is a better risk to take than the certain dangers of death and harm they will face in Central America," she said, adding that many of the kids are routinely threatened and assaulted for not joining gangs.
The children interviewed were in CBP detention facilities in southern Texas. Because of severe overcrowding, many children have been transferred from Texas to a detention facility in Nogales, Arizona, on the Mexican border south of Tucson. However, the advocacy groups say they have no indication whether the conditions in Nogales are any better or worse than the conditions the children reported facing in Texas.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)