Migrant minors alleged unsanitary conditions, abuse at Yuma border station




    An aerial view of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection tent facility in Yuma, Ariz., that will house families and unaccompanied minors for between 24 and 72 hours. Photo by Jerry Glaser | U.S. Customs and Border Protection

    Migrant minors who were detained at a U.S. Border Patrol station in Yuma have alleged mistreatment and sexual assault, according to records obtained by NBC News.

    Migrants claimed that agents took away their floor mats in retaliation for complaining about water and food quality, and were held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.  In one case, a teenage girl reported she was sexually assaulted when an agent groped her body while patting her down. 

    “Minor reports officer asked her to lift her shirt up to bra line and then he put his hands inside her bra and touched her breast,” according to one report detailing the alleged sexual assault incident. “Minor reported officer then asked her to spread her legs and arms and patted her down in a way that made her feel uncomfortable as she felt he groped her body, her breast and private parts as well.” 

    A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection told NBC News the allegation of sexual abuse is already under investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. 

    The accounts disclosed by NBC News are based on “significant incident reports” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

    After processing at the border, all children who arrive in the country alone or are separated from their parents or other relatives are transferred to the custody of HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

    As of June 10, the Department of Homeland Security had referred more than 52,000 migrant minors to HHS custody since October.

    Once in HHS custody, all children are assessed through an intake process, which includes interviews to determine their physical and mental well-being and a medical exam.

    NBC News reviewed 30 significant incident reports it obtained, which were prepared between April 10 and June 12. All were related to the Yuma border station. According to HHS, “significant incidents” that require reporting include verbal threats by one minor against another, physical altercations or allegations of sexual abuse.

    “(Minors) reported being denied a phone call, not being offered a shower, sleeping on concrete or outside with only a Mylar blanket, and feeling hungry before their 9 p.m. dinnertime,” the NBC News article said. One boy reported he had to sleep with clothes still wet from crossing the border, and another reported he wore soiled underwear for 10 days because he was afraid to ask for clean ones. 

    The NBC News report also documented verbal abuse by border agents. 

    “A 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, and would sometimes call them ‘puto,’ an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving orders,” the article reports. 

    Between October and June, border authorities arrested 6,652 minors in the Yuma area who traveled unaccompanied to the U.S., a 50-percent increase from that period in the past fiscal year. 

    U.S. Customs and Border Patrol recently opened a 500-bed tent facility for migrant families and minors in Yuma. 

    The incidents NBC News exposed add to recent revelations from migrant advocates and government inspectors that migrant adults, teens and children are held in dangerous and precarious conditions at border facilities. 

    Laura Gómez
    Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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