(CN) – Asylum-seeking kids fleeing violence in their home countries of Central and South America faced beatings, sexual abuse, and death threats when apprehended by U.S. border agents, the ACLU concluded after reviewing thousands of pages of complaints filed on the children’s behalf.
The abuse of children in federal custody is widespread, an ACLU representative said during a conference call on Wednesday.
According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, unaccompanied children detained by federal agents mainly hail from Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union released the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law’s overview report of several years of complaints submitted by legal service providers and immigrants’ rights advocates filed on behalf of the migrant children, often asylum-seekers.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection regularly used force on children when they’re apprehended, knocking children to the ground, kicking them, shocking them with stun guns, and threatening them with death, according to the report. A Customs and Border Protection truck ran over one child, resulting in “crushing damage” to the child’s leg, according to the report.
Sexual abuse allegations include an agent who grabbed a girl’s buttocks when he was alone with her. In another incident, a 16-year-old girl was searched by agents and they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard she screamed.”
Ages of the children who made the complaints range from pre-teen to teen, according to the report that is the product of a Freedom of Information Act request filed in 2014 by the ACLU’s Border Litigation Project.
The data covers allegations of abuse from 2009 through 2014 while children were in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The children were primarily detained on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Since 2015, the ACLU has collected 30,000 pages of records related to allegations of the abuse of children while in federal custody.
“These abuses have been systematic,” said Astrid Dominguez, director of the ACLU Regional Center for Border Rights.
Investigations into abuse allegations are often lengthy and closed. Because so much time has passed, the agents say they do not recall the incidents in question, according to the report.
Meanwhile, oversight agencies that should hold the Department of Homeland Security accountable are lacking in their response to address abuse allegations.
In connection with the release of the report, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties will make federal records obtained over the last four years available to the public.
The report comes as the federal government weighs whether immigration agents should separate asylum-seeking families while in detention facilities.
Earlier this month, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two women, identified as Ms. L and Ms. C, who were separated from their children while being detained in immigration facilities.
The Trump administration has suggested separating families could be used as a “deterrent” for those who come to the U.S. seeking asylum. The ACLU believes the concept has already been put into practice by immigration officials, and says it violates the due process rights of mothers like Ms. L and Ms. C and their children.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to an email for comment on the report.