U.S. authorities said Wednesday they are investigating allegations of abuse of migrant children by border agents, including the groping of a Honduran teenage girl, at a facility near the southern border with Mexico.
The allegations were reported by NBC News, which cited official reports of the incidents – including the children’s accounts – at a Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, Arizona, where the migrants were held.
One incident involved a 15-year-old girl from Honduras, who alleged that a border agent put his hand inside her bra, then pulled down her underwear and groped her in front of other migrants and officials during what NBC News said should have been a routine pat-down.
The girl said in her account that “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing,” NBC reported.
I do not have the words to acknowledge the grief and pain of a mother who lost her child. I am so grateful to courageous people like Ms. Juarez for sharing her story & the story of her daughter who died in CBP custody.
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) July 10, 2019
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP) has faced severe criticism over its treatment of detained migrants.
The reports obtained by NBC News also included an account by a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala who said that after he and other detainees complained about the taste of the water and food, agents took away sleeping mats and forced them to sleep on the hard floor in retaliation.
Another teenager’s account involved border agents scolding detainees whenever they came close to a window. Some children said they were scared of the officers and that officials would get angry if they asked for anything.
NBC reported that one child “wore soiled underwear for the 10 days he was in the border station because he was afraid to ask the officers for a clean pair, according to one of the reports.”
There has been a public outcry in recent months over the conditions at detention facilities where migrants are held, and there is fierce debate in Congress on how to address the crisis.
Border officials, who have been defended by President Donald Trump, say they are overwhelmed by the surging numbers of refugees crossing the southern U.S. border.
The abuse allegations come a week after CBP announced that it had launched an investigation into a secret Facebook group for current and former agents that is filled with racist memes and posts mocking migrants.
A CBP spokesperson said the agency takes “all allegations seriously and investigate all formal complaints.”
CBP “treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct,” a spokesman for the agency said in a statement.
“The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated.”
The spokesman added that the sexual assault allegation is already being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.