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Trauma and Terror: Migrant Detainees Describe Physical Abuse and Torture Tactics in Detention Centers

A court filing made Monday by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law describes disturbing, torturous conditions migrant detainees are subjected to in United States detention centers, Border Patrol stations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities


“This story is more than just separating children from their parents. The bigger picture is forced starvation and sleeplessness and terrorizing these children,” Pete Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law’s foundation, told HuffPost.

According to HuffPost, which reported the court filing:

Once migrants cross the border, they are put in short-term Border Patrol stations for a few days before being transferred to detention centers or shelters. While some kids have reported good conditions in longer-term shelters friendly staff, movie nights and field trips advocates and immigration experts have long considered Border Patrol facilities to be inhumane.

Schey teamed up with several dozen lawyers to interview detainees they described as “crying, trembling, hungry, thirsty, sleepless, sick and terrified,” HuffPost noted.

Sixteen-year-old Keylin, whose last name does not appear in the documents, recalls being forced to strip naked, drink toilet water and eat frozen food while she was housed at a Border Patrol center. She says she was freezing all of the time and scarcely ate; she did not have a toothbrush or toothpaste. When she started experiencing a pain in her leg she refused to tell the guards, who said anyone who was hurt would be detained longer.

Ten-year-old Dixiana described her Border Patrol station as a “hielera” (“ice box” in Spanish) and says she was held in a “perrera” (“dog house” in Spanish). An officer looking for a girl with a similar name kicked Dixiana to wake her up when she was dozing off, she told a lawyer.

A 13-year-old boy claimed he stopped drinking the water because “I didn’t trust it”; he recalled feeling sick to his stomach on the two occasions he did drink it, according to HuffPost.

Detainees do not spend as much time in Border Patrol stations as in other facilities but the longer-term locations still reportedly resemble prisons.

Elmer, a teenager, told an attorney he was denied a doctor’s visit when he fell ill at a migrant shelter for children. He described a constant feeling of hunger because the shelter doesn’t have enough food, and he isn’t allowed to go to church.

Elmer is housed at Casa Padre the largest children’s migrant center in the country.

Casa Padre staff members reportedly make things even worse, 16-year-old Sergio told a lawyer. HuffPost reported:

The 16-year-old has only been able to speak with his dad for 20 minutes in the last 45 days, and he told a lawyer that his father is getting deported. When a guard found him crying in the bathroom one night, Sergio said the man accused him of being a “crybaby,” an insult he followed with an English phrase that another boy translated as “swear words.” “The way I have been treated makes me feel like I don’t matter,” he said, “like I am trash.”

Schey, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law director, told HuffPost that Sergio is not alone. “[Kids at Casa Padre] are not getting mental health services. They are experiencing depression and anxiety… and nightmares and sleeplessness,” he said.

Schey’s findings will be presented in federal court on July 27th.

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