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Migrant children denounce torture

Eileen Truax| El Universal
11:00Saturday 20 December 2014

Between last May and August, complaints of abuse and torture by agents of the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have increased . (Photo: ARCHIVE EL UNIVERSAL )

Complaints of abuse and torture by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies have increased in recent months.

The difficult journey through Mexico, the dangers of the road, the abuse by agents and extortionists, and the fear of leaving home, are some of the situations Ileana, 15, faced when she left her country in Central America to enter illegally to the United States. But none of this compares to the eleven days she lived in cramped conditions, abused, without access to basic services and unprotected, while she was detained by U.S. immigration authorities.

From the dramatic increase in arrivals of unaccompanied migrant children to the United States between last May and August, complaints of abuse and torture by agents of the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies also increased. Because of this, lawyers and activists who have documented cases have put pressure on the government to exercise legal actions, such as the suspension of deportation of some of these children.

The most recent case is that of Ileana -the name of the child has been modified and her country of origin is omitted to protect her identity during the legal process.  When the teenager was arrested by Border Patrol in Texas, what she first faced was overcrowding: she was transferred to a small space with more than 100 people, including women with small children and adolescents, where there was not enough space, according to the testimony that she gave, weeks later, to the lawyers of the firm Amoachi & Johnson, based in New York.

The following day, a series of rights violations occurred: lack of food or spoiled food; lack of clean drinking water; freezing temperatures, and housing conditions that violate the standards set by the U.S. law. This was told by the girl once she left the detention center and felt safe to denounce.

According to the protocols established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the department of the agents of the Border Patrol, when unaccompanied children are detained in the border they should be treated under conditions that ensure their physical and mental integrity, and transferred in no more than 72 hours at a shelter for minors under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services.

However, there are more and more cases of minors whose rights were not respected, with physical, mental and legal consequences: lawyers of Ileana submitted a request this month to the Department of Justice in order to cancel her deportation, since the interview by the immigration authorities to determine her ability to legally stay in the country was conducted under conditions of confinement that violate all regulations.

"Our client spent four days at the processing center of the border, and then she was transferred to one of the military shelters in Oklahoma for another seven days," said Bryan Johnson, attorney of the girl, who explained that during the 11 days his client lost eight pounds. "she ate almost nothing during this time; she was held at low temperatures, with fluorescent lights day and night on. We are asking the government to take responsibility because we are not the only filing such complaints; almost every child that entered the country between July and August lived in these conditions."

On December 11, when Amoachi & Johnson lawyers announced their complaint, they uncovered two things. On the one hand, the fact that the request to cancel the deportation of Ileana was not sent to DHS, but the Justice Department, requesting this instance to review the treatment by CBP to minors. Furthermore, the description of mistreatment made by their client: the lawyers directly qualified as torture.

In its public denounce, the firm cites the recently documents released by the Obama administration concerning torture practices carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and notes that "under the Obama administration, the DHS treated unaccompanied children, detained in cells, often in equal conditions in which the CIA used to detain terrorist during the Bush administration. "

CBP spokesmen have declined to comment on the matter. Meanwhile, DHS states that once they finish their investigations, they will give a public statement.