US border agents have been engaged in “shocking abuses” against asylum seekers since 2016, according to records obtained by Human Rights Watch and revealed Thursday.
The revelation by the New York-based nonprofit comes after a years-long battle to wrestle the information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under freedom of information laws.
Human Rights Watch said US asylum officers have documented more than 160 instances of sexual and physical abuse of migrants, adding the documents “paint a picture of DHS as an agency that appears to have normalized shocking abuses at the US border. The US should take urgent and sustained action to stop such abuses”.
Among the records, there is a case of alleged child sexual abuse reported by a supervisor in the San Francisco asylum office. An asylum officer interviewed “a young child who was sexually molested by someone we believe to be a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) or Border Patrol Officer … The young girl was forced to undress and touched inappropriately by a guard wearing green”. The Border Patrol uniform is green.
In yet another account of misconduct, a migrant told an asylum officer that she was mistreated by a Border Patrol officer after she tried to run from him along the southwestern border in April 2017.
“He caught me and threw me to the ground in a very aggressive way. And he pulled me up three or four times, and kept slamming me on the ground,” the migrant said, noting the officer also grabbed her by the hair and kicked her in the rib cage and lower pelvis, causing her to bleed.
In addition to physical, emotional and sexual abuse migrants experienced, some of them said they were told they could not request asylum and that they were pressured with threats to sign documents.
A Honduran man, for instance, was told by a Border Patrol officer that he would be sent to jail, where he would be raped, if the migrant refused to sign paperwork.
In a report prepared by an asylum officer at Citizenship and Immigration Services, the officer wrote that threatening rape for refusing to sign paperwork was “a gross violation.”
“I’m really sorry that this happened to you,” the asylum officer recalled telling the man. “It should not have happened.”