AI Justice Releases Groundbreaking Report “Do My Rights Matter: The Mistreatment of Unaccompanied Children in CBP Custody”

October 30, 2020
Contact: Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, [email protected]

MIAMI, FL – During the past decade, tens of thousands of children have made the difficult decision to flee their countries and seek protection here. They are fleeing vicious gang violence, rape and other horrific abuses, many seeing flight as the only way to survive.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. In 2019 they detained over 76,000 children; AI Justice provided legal services to over 9,000 of them.

This report was written by AI Justice’s shelter advocates whose work is critical. These staff, whose job is to help arriving children navigate our complex immigration system, are the first encounter that arriving children have with someone other than a government official. Genesis Barrios, an AI Justice shelter advocate, noted that, “As a daughter of Guatemalan immigrants growing up in a largely Central American neighborhood, my work as a shelter advocate is, at times, a deeply personal mission.”

The children we met with ranged in age from 24 days to 18 years and were apprehended along the southern U.S.-Mexican border. While detained in CBP custody they had only limited access to phones to call their loved ones and no access to lawyers or anyone else who could help them. Many of the children were from indigenous communities and faced even more abuse than the rest.

The children we met with uniformly shared stories of abuse. Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, Program Director of AI Justice’s Children’s Legal Program, describes the conditions these children faced. “Children described being held in frigid rooms, sleeping on concrete floors, being fed frozen food, with little to no access to medical care. Too often, they were subjected to emotional, verbal, and even physical abuse by CBP officers. The stories we heard from our clients were horrifying and heartbreaking, but unfortunately not surprising. CBP has a history of systemic abuse, and has done nothing to correct the issue.”

AI Justice has documented the mistreatment of children seeking refuge at our border for decades. CBP’s workforce has doubled since 2003 and its funding has significantly increased, including in 2019. Yet conditions at their facilities have not changed, and reports of inhumane treatment continues.

AI Justice’s Executive Director Cheryl Little noted, “During the last Presidential debate Trump bragged that children detained at the border are so well taken care of. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is way past time for our government to treat these vulnerable, courageous children with the care they clearly deserve.”

AI Justice is the only agency authorized by the federal government to provide legal services to children held in South Florida’s ORR-run facilities.

Click here to read “Do My Rights Matter: The Mistreatment of Unaccompanied Children in CBP Custody.”

We asked young people who had been detained by CBP in 2019 to reflect on their experiences in detention.  Click here to hear Juan’s story.


Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) is an award-winning non-profit law firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, it champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocates for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serves as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speaks for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.