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ACLU lawsuit seeks records for detained immigrant children

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Two young girls watch a soccer match on a television at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. A lawsuit contends that detainees are subjected to “unconstitutional conditions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the federal government for failure to produce records related to the alleged abuse and mistreatment of children in the custody of Customs and Border Protection.

Failure to produce the documents violates the Freedom of Information Act and hurts the plaintiff’s efforts to inform the public on a serious problem affecting some of the most vulnerable, the ACLU said.

“There’s an inherent urgency to understand the extent of the problem. I know for a fact DHS has received large numbers of complaints and in many cases have done nothing,” James Lyall, an ACLU attorney in Tucson. That includes 100 complaints filed last summer by the ACLU and others on behalf of unaccompanied minors in alleging abuse and mistreatment in Border Patrol custody. They include claims of harsh temperatures, severe overcrowding, denial of adequate hygiene supplies, bedding, food, water and medical care.

“It’s the initial step to show how bad the problem is and why it needs to be addressed,” Lyall said. The CBP said it does not comment on pending litigation.

“CBP holds its employees to the highest standards of ethical conduct and takes any allegations of misconduct seriously and, if warranted, takes action immediately,” the agency said in an email. “In response to the unprecedented humanitarian situation last summer, U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel around the country responded in a professional and compassionate manner. Border Patrol agents provided safety, shelter and care for immigrants in custody from the initial encounter up until they were processed and out of the agency’s custody.”

On Dec. 3, 2014, the ACLU’s border litigation team in Tucson and San Diego and the law firm Cooley LLP filed a public-records request for Department of Homeland Security records pertaining to alleged or actual mistreatment of children in its custody, as well as DHS oversight agencies’ handling of those cases since the beginning of the Obama administration. The ACLU had asked that the request be expedited, which was denied. So far, the DHS has not produced the documents.

“This is yet another example of the lack of transparency at Department of Homeland Security,” Lyall said.

Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at 520-573-4213 or On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo.

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