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A family is detained by United States Border Patrol agents for illegally crossing into the United States from Mexico on Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Mission, TX. (Photo: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Report Details 'Jaw-Dropping' Abuse of Asylum Seekers by US Border Agents

The accounts of 160 asylum officers portray "DHS as an agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the U.S. border."

Julia Conley

A report by Human Rights Watch out Thursday is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after it detailed how asylum seekers have faced years of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse at the hands of Border Patrol agents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
 
Based on 160 reports filed by asylum officers, the report—titled "They Treat You Like You Are Worthless"—describes asylum seekers facing beatings, threats of violence, molestation, and destruction of their personal documents, among other abusive conduct.
 
Federal asylum officers, who regularly interview asylum seekers after they have crossed the U.S. border and been placed into immigration court proceedings by Border Patrol agents, filed the reports after being told by migrants about the abuse.

"These internal government documents make clear that reports of grievous abuses—assaults, sexual abuse, and discriminatory treatment by US agents—are an open secret within DHS."

 
One asylum officer in the San Francisco Asylum Office told the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that the office had interviewed "a young child who was sexually molested by someone we believe to be a [Customs and Border Protection] or Border Patrol Officer."
 
"They were apprehended by Border Patrol, sent to the Ice Box [a border holding cell], then this occurred: the young girl was forced to undress and touched inappropriately by a guard in the Ice Box wearing green, with the nametag [redacted]," said the officer.
 
In some cases reported by asylum officers, Border Patrol agents did not conduct credible fear interviews—as they are supposed to when they apprehend a migrant to determine if the person faces the threat of persecution or violence in their home country—or falsified reports regarding the migrants' credible fear.
 
"One, for example, says the 'applicant testified that she told the immigration officers that she was afraid to return. They wrote down that she said she was not. The applicant stated that the immigration officers did not tell her what she was signing when they typed in her signature,'" reads the report.
 
Another asylum seeker from Honduras reported to an officer that when he refused to sign paperwork out of fear that the documents, which were in English, were deportation papers, a Border Patrol agent told him that he was not able to seek asylum in the U.S. and that if he didn't sign the papers, "he was going to be sent to a jail where they were going to rape him."
 
"A threat of rape is a gross violation for refusing to sign paperwork that was not made clear to an applicant," wrote the asylum officer. "Compounded by the fact that this applicant was in fact raped, which resulted in him fleeing his count[r]y, it is extremely disturbing that the officer acted with such insensitivity, and in my personal opinion, this is a serious act of misconduct."
 
The abuses described in the Human Rights Watch report were called "jaw-dropping" by Clara Long, associate U.S. director for the organization.
 
"These internal government documents make clear that reports of grievous abuses—assaults, sexual abuse, and discriminatory treatment by US agents—are an open secret within DHS," said Long.
 
The report covers abuses that were recorded by asylum officers between 2016 and 2021. While President Donald Trump was in office for most of that time, the report comes a month after the release of footage of Border Patrol agents chasing Haitian migrants with long reins in Del Rio, Texas, leading to condemnation of the Biden administration's practices in regards to asylum seekers.
 
President Joe Biden said last month the agents in the videos would be held accountable for their actions, while DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said the department is conducting reviews "to identify and terminate intolerable prejudice and reform its policies and training." An internal investigation into the actions displayed in the footage is underway.
 
But Monday's report, Long said, offers a picture of "DHS as an agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the U.S. border."
 
"The Biden administration," she added, "should not be making excuses for failures by DHS and its components, but rather—together with Congress—taking urgent steps to ensure that people victimized by U.S. border and immigration agents, including on the basis of race, have access to justice and that this persistent pattern of abuse and misconduct ends."
 
Human Rights Watch reported that DHS has not responded to two requests the group made in the past month, asking the agency for information about investigations or disciplinary actions that have resulted from several cases of abuse, including "violations of due process and dehumanizing treatment."

"One-off solutions will not repair the systemic abuses DHS perpetrates against many migrants seeking protection."

 
"These records, which long predate the viral atrocities we witnessed against Black migrants in Del Rio, confirm... that one-off solutions will not repair the systemic abuses DHS perpetrates against many migrants seeking protection," said Breanne Palmer, interim policy and advocacy director of the UndocuBlack Network, which has seen summaries of the records HRW obtained.
 
The report comes less than two weeks after the Project on Government Oversight released recommendations for how Congress can ensure that CBP—"America's largest, least accountable law enforcement agency"—is reformed and held responsible for its abuses.
 
The group called for a reformed recruitment and training process, better management of complaints, reevaluation of the agency's jurisdiction, and other measures.

 

"CBP suffers from long-standing and serious transparency, oversight, and accountability deficits," said POGO. "Long-term change relies on the understanding that fundamental professional reforms may struggle to take root until CBP's outdated model of border enforcement—one that depends on deterrence through militarization—is revised, and CBP's footprint in border communities is reduced."

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