These Harrowing Letters Written By Children In Detention Centers Are Surfacing With Accounts Of Sexual Assault And Hunger
Reports of sexual and physical abuse in detention centers aren’t new, but a series of handwritten letters by migrant youth in detention centers offer a closer look at the violence and neglect children experience during their journeys to the US and while locked up in immigration holding centers.
Spanish-language network Univision obtained a dozen letters from children, between the ages of 13 and 17, who denounced the inhumane conditions, which one described as “torment,” at the “hieleras” or “perreras,” Spanish for holding cells. Each of the youths spoke under the condition of anonymity.
One migrant teen said she was “treated badly” and “starved” under US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), also noting that agents spoke to her “with demeaning and discriminatory words.” Another child added that youth who became ill weren’t treated; instead, they were placed in confinement
One teenage girl, who said she spent five days in a cell sick, confirmed the allegation.
“I was sick, I asked for help and they did not offer it to me,” she wrote. “There were babies crying, sick children. We only bathed one time since we arrived. I had a very bad time, they treated us badly, they woke us up all the time.”
One of the unaccompanied minors said the young migrants “didn’t have anything to sleep on” and that they “couldn’t bathe themselves.”
Outside a shelter in Mexico, where one boy stopped during his journey to the US, he said he was sexually abused while begging for food. The child left the Casa del Migrante in Tijuana, Baja to ask strangers for donations so he could pay for food. That’s when one man stopped and coerced him into a sexual exchange.
“He told me, ‘I want you to do something to me that I want with you,’” the boy noted in his letter. “Well, he took me to a hotel room. He told me, ‘bathe.’ I bathed and then he forced me to have sex with him because I was hungry, well, the necessity. He forced me because I was very hungry. And I had to do it not because I wanted to, but because he forced me. Well, everything happened and he gave me money. For me it was very dirty, but the necessity [to eat] led me to do it.”
As a result of the violence they experienced during their trek north and while in US detention centers, some teens expressed an interest in doing work in their new country to help unaccompanied minors like themselves.
“My dream is to study to be a lawyer so that I can help migrants from other countries to achieve their dream as I am fulfilling my dream,” one undocumented teen wrote.
She added: “My dream is to be a lawyer because I know it’s hard to leave our country.”
According to United States guidelines, unaccompanied youth must be released from Border Patrol facilities within 72 hours, where they are then required to be transferred to the United States Department of Health & Human Services, which places the children with a sponsor. Currently, there are tens of thousands of youth at CBP facilities along the border.