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Rights and Justice

Customs and Border Patrol Must Improve Its Woefully Inadequate Complaint System

“Eduardo” was 17 years old when he was apprehended by United States Border Patrol. When we met with him, he told us his shocking story.

Eduardo was crossing the desert near the McAllen Border Patrol Station in Texas, along with a pregnant woman, two boys and a man. When they caught him, Border Patrol agents abused him physically and verbally. They grabbed him by the neck and dragged him along the ground, using their Tasers even though he had not resisted or attempted to run. Eduardo was distressed to see the Border Patrol agents use Tasers on the other people in the group, including the pregnant woman. They took him to la hielera—”the freezer”—as ice-cold holding cells at Border Patrol stations are known. There, guards continued to verbally harass him and the other exhausted children while they tried to sleep.

The Women's Refugee Commission staff has met with more than 150 children, aged 15 to 17, who had been apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along the U.S./Mexico border. Almost all of them told distressing stories of mistreatment at the hands of Border Patrol officials. The children were unable to file complaints about the abuse they suffered because they had no Internet access in federal detention.

When we filed complaints on behalf of four of the children, we learned firsthand that CBP's abuse complaint system, while much needed and vitally important, is woefully inadequate and unresponsive. Without a functioning complaint system, CBP is subject to little, if any, effective oversight. Complaints of abuse are difficult or impossible to file even for trained professionals, let alone a detained child.

Today, on International Migrants Day, the Women's Refugee Commission has released a position paper on this issue, calling on the Department of Homeland Security and CBP to make its complaint system visible, accessible and transparent. If they do so, it will be a huge step toward protecting the rights of vulnerable migrants.


Rights and Justice