ResourcesPress Release

Stop the Abuse of Immigrant Children in U.S. Custody

Child detention practices by U.S. border patrol violate international standards

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) expresses concern over the ongoing abuse of unaccompanied immigrant children in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
New findings released today by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and University of Chicago Law School International Human Rights Clinic, based on 30,000 pages of records obtained by the ACLU over the past four years through a Freedom of Information Act request, document systemic maltreatment of children entering the United States across its southern border.

The report reveals a horrific level of neglect and harm perpetrated by government employees, with little to no accountability. Government records show reports of border agents hitting or kicking children, threatening them with rape or death, and shooting them with Tasers during apprehension. In custody, children are held in freezing rooms with no blankets, food, or clean water, denied necessary medical care, forced to sleep on concrete floors and to share overcrowded cells with adult strangers, subjected to physical and sexual assault, and finally, in many cases, deported without due process and under coercion.

Kathryn Hampton, PHR’s asylum network program officer says:

“These important findings confirm ongoing systemic violations of international minimum child protection standards. PHR expert clinicians have independently documented, in over 350 forensic evaluations of child asylum seekers since 2014, that many children arriving at the U.S. border have survived unimaginable violence and abuse. These brave and resilient kids deserve to be treated compassionately, but instead are abused and neglected while being held in border jails.
“Under the international legal principle of best interest determination, which is also consistently applied as a standard in U.S. law, the state is required to keep the best interests of the child at the center of all policies and practices concerning minors. We need to hold the U.S. government accountable for abuse of children perpetrated by government employees and for a system that facilitates abuse without accountability,” Hampton states.

Dr. Norma Price, an oncologist with 10 years of experience working with migrants at the Arizona border, and a PHR honoree, recounts her personal experiences of the conditions of neglect to which vulnerable children are subjected.

“I’ve been in a border patrol station where the people who had been detained had to sleep on the floor. They had one toilet behind a half wall. It was terribly cold. They had water in a bucket where they could get water. And they had a TV screen up that was showing images of how people had been abused by the coyote or the guide that brought them across – a fear tactic. It was inhumane,” Price explains.

PHR Asylum network member and child and adult psychiatrist Dr. Suzan Song explains the impact of abuse and neglect on children: “Children who are exposed to trauma, forced separation from family, fear, and isolation can have long-term emotional and behavioral consequences.”
PHR calls for an end to impunity and for the following meaningful measures to prevent abuse:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must establish detailed, binding, and enforceable child protection standards to regulate border custody practices relating to minors, including introducing a confidential complaint process so that children can safely report abuse.
  • Independent oversight mechanisms must be strengthened in order to ensure that facility inspection audits, both internal and external, provide a meaningful level of accountability for conditions of confinement and that complaints by children are acted upon.
  • Border patrol agents who are responsible for the well-being of children must receive specialized training so that they are equipped to consider the best interests of the child at all times.
  • Agents who violate agency guidelines must be fully investigated and penalized if found to be in violation, and the results of those investigations must be made public.
  • PHR recommends that all DHS agencies engage in ongoing consultations with service providers with expertise in responding to the specific needs of children on the move.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

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