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ACLU Lawyer: Border Patrol’s Repeated Abuse of Children Must Stop

By James Lyall, ACLU attorney
Huffington Post

Detainees wrested from sleep every 30 minutes, the lights in their frigid cells never turned off. One detainee told by officials, don’t lie or you’ll be raped. Another detainee sexually abused by guards. Detainees forced to stand in stress positions. Others denied adequate food, water, and medical treatment and held in dehumanizing conditions. “Welcome to hell,” one guard told a detainee, a good metaphor for what occurs across these sites of torment.

These incidents don’t come from military prisons in Iraq or Afghanistan or CIA black sites. This has been happening for years along the Southwest border in U.S. government facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its Border Patrol. The victims: children, some as young as infants, as documented in a recent complaint filed by a group of immigrant rights advocates who interviewed 116 unaccompanied children previously held in CBP custody.

Just as appalling, government agencies have known about these abuses for a long time, but failed to take action. Now, more children are vulnerable to harm in Border Patrol custody than ever before. Since October, 47,000 children have left their homes in Central America, mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, for the United States. They flee destabilizing violence and crime fomented by criminal syndicates and gangs, more often than not without a loved one leading the way. With their fate far from certain, they make an arduous, perilous trek, sometimes spanning thousands of miles, in search of refuge in America. They risk it all, not so much in search of a better life, but simply to live.

Once here, many of these brave and resourceful children — who have already suffered abuse many times before throughout their lives — encounter not compassion and empathy from U.S. immigration officials but abuse. The most vulnerable are once again taught a cruel lesson: There’s nowhere safe for them to lay their heads down and just be children.

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