The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on Wednesday filed two claims with the federal government on behalf of two sisters who were allegedly sexually assaulted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year.
According to the ACLU, the sisters “continue to suffer severe emotional distress as a result of the assault,” which they say occurred in July 2016, when they were 19 and 17 years old.
The sisters got lost while traveling to the United States from Guatemala and asked CBP officers for help after crossing the Texas-Chihuahua, Mexico, border. They were taken to a CBP field office in Presidio, Texas, and it was there, they say, that a federal officer took them into a small, closetlike room one at a time, told them to remove their clothes and sexually assaulted them.
“CBP must be held accountable for its officer’s sexual abuse of these vulnerable victims,” ACLU of Northern California staff attorney Angelica Salceda said. “There has been no criminal prosecution against the officer involved. CBP is not above the law, and its abuses of power must not be tolerated.”
According to the ACLU, the sisters, who have asked not to be identified publicly for fear of retaliation, reported the incident to another CBP officer in the field office. The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation, and the sisters were interviewed twice, but federal authorities have not pursued criminal charges against the officer, and it is not clear if the officer has faced any disciplinary actions.
The older sister, identified only by the pseudonym “Clarita,” said: “What happened in that closet has caused me so much pain and sadness. I’m telling my story because I don’t want anyone else to go through this. I hope the officer will be honest about what he did and take responsibility for his actions. This is the only way we’ll be able to ensure this never happens again.”
Clarita detailed the incident in her own words in an ACLU blog post.
“CBP has a troubling and extensively documented history of human rights abuses at the border. This history, paired with Trump’s anti-immigration policies and his plan to add 5,000 more Border Patrol agents to CBP’s ranks, are great cause for alarm,” Mitra Ebadolahi, Border Litigation Project staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said. “CBP presumes that it is not subject to federal or state child-protection laws, and this incident makes clear that at least some of its officers think they can commit sexual assault with impunity. This must change.”
According to the ACLU, “the claims were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue the federal government and seek monetary damages.”