In a complaint, a 15-year-old migrant girl from Honduras said that a U.S. border agent put his hands inside her bra, pulled down her underwear, and groped her in front of other officers and immigrants, during what was supposed to be a routine pat-down.
The allegation, first reported by NBC News, is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The teenage girl said “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing,” according to the incident report.
The alleged assault happened at a Yuma, Arizona, facility, which there have been allegations of unsanitary and crowded conditions in addition to misconduct and abuse. Children have said they were scared of officers at the center because they would react with anger to requests. A child said he wore the same underwear for 10 days because he was afraid to ask for a clean pair.
Agents from CBP and Border Patrol, the uniformed law enforcement arm of CBP, have been accused of sexually assaulting people they detain, including minors, before.
In 2018, CBP settled a case involving a woman who said that in 2016, when she was 17 years old, a CBP officer sexually assaulted her and her older sister. The lawsuit alleged that after she and her sister were apprehended while traveling from Guatemala to the United States to see their mother, an officer brought them to a CBP station and took them to a small room where he made them undress and groped their breasts and genitals.
He told them he was searching for weapons, but his behavior clearly went against a 2014 Department of Homeland Security memo on opposite-gender strip searches and searches of minors. Due to the government shutdown fueled by President Donald Trump’s demand for funds for a proposed border wall, the settlement was delayed until February of this year.
In 2014, Border Patrol agent Esteban Manzanares encountered three women walking along the U.S.-Mexico border. He did not take them into custody and instead attacked the trio, while sexually assaulted two of the women in the group. He brought one of the victims into the woods and cut her wrists and twisted her neck. Then he brought the first victim’s daughter into the woods, did the same to her, molested her and left her in the woods covered with dirt. She pretended to be dead. Then Manzanares handcuffed the third victim, a 14-year-old, to a tree and later took her to his apartment to rape her multiple times. Manzanares committed suicide when federal authorities came to his apartment and knocked on the door.
When the New York Times reported on the incident last year, Customs and Border Protection officials said that they did not have a procedure in place for supervising agents in the field. The Times explained, “No policy … required supervisors to make verbal or physical contact with agents during a shift.”
The lack of procedure may explain why there are many more incidents like this.
This apparent lack of appropriate supervision and accountability seemed particularly relevant when a Border Patrol supervisor, Juan David Ortiz, was charged last year with murdering four women. A fifth woman managed to escape. All of the women he killed were sex workers. (Police officers have also abused and targeted sex workers, believing those victims to be less credible or less likely to go to authorities.)
This newest incident in Yuma comes only a few days after ProPublica reported on a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents, where they shared racist and sexist content. Referring to Congressional Hispanic Caucus members’ planned visit to a detention facility in Texas, one member of the group, a patrol supervisor, wrote “Fuck the hoes” and another agent posted that agents should throw a “burrito at these bitches.”