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Immigrant Rights Groups Assert That CBP Is Violating Its Own Custody Standards

“There is simply no excuse for this shocking and inhumane treatment of people seeking safety,” one advocate said.

Aerial view of asylum seekers standing in line to be transported to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the nearby border with Mexico near the Jacumba Hot Springs on November 30, 2023, in San Diego, California.

A new federal complaint lodged with the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asserts that Border Patrol officers have forced asylum seekers to wait outdoors for several hours and days without adequate access to water, food, sanitation, medical care, or protection from the elements.

“For months, some of the world’s most vulnerable people have arrived to the border in search of safety, and have instead been detained outdoors in life threatening conditions,” Jacqueline Arellano, director of USA Programs for Border Kindness, said in a statement. “Border Patrol is reacting with deliberate negligence, and in their refusal to provide for the basic needs of those in their detention, have risked thousands of lives by misdirecting their responsibilities to the community. The practice of Open Air Detention must be acknowledged and discontinued immediately to end this mass suffering and before there is further loss of life.”

The 88-page complaint, which was filed by seven immigrant rights organizations, is the second federal complaint filed against CBP for human rights violations. In May, the Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) filed a complaint with the CRCL shortly after the CBP was found to be violating their own custody standards. The immigrant rights groups allege that the inhumane conditions at the open-air detention sites have not changed since the first complaint was filed and that similar inhumane practices are spreading to other sites across the southern border.

“There is simply no excuse for this shocking and inhumane treatment of people seeking safety,” Linda Evarts, senior supervising attorney at International Refugee Assistance Project, said in a statement. “Border Patrol is blatantly violating its own detention standards and endangering the lives of people in need. We demand that CBP treat people with the dignity and care they deserve.”

Since the first human rights complaint was filed in May, at least one person, a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Guinea, died while trapped in an open-air detention site.

“It is unconscionable that Border Patrol agents force asylum seeking migrants to wait for hours and days in dangerous conditions,” said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s US-Mexico Border Program. “In San Diego, one person in a medically vulnerable state has already died at an open-air detention site.”

The complaint also asserts that the CBP does not adequately respond to medical emergencies or provide medical care, sufficient food and water, or adequate restroom facilities to asylum seekers. Because the CBP is not addressing the basic needs of asylum seekers at open-air detention sites, human rights organizations and volunteers have been left to provide food, water, blankets, tarps, translation services, clothing, medicine and first aid, diapers, and hygiene products to the thousands of people seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Once again, Customs and Border Protection is sidestepping accountability for not abiding by their own custody standards for asylum seekers, which not only undermines trust in the agency but the entire U.S. immigration system,” Lilian Serrano, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, said in a statement. “CBP has a responsibility to protect human rights and dignity for all, yet their practice of forcing asylum seekers to remain outdoors in remote open-air detention sites says otherwise. Exposing migrants to the elements in the middle of winter with no food or water for days is beyond inhumane — it’s appalling, and CBP must end this now.”

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