In a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, two Guatemalan sisters, ages 17 and 19, are seeking $750,000 per person in compensation for a sexual assault that allegedly took place while the siblings were being held at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection intake office in Presidio, Texas.
The sisters (whose names have been withheld for fear of retribution) were fleeing “tyrannical” Guatemala when they illegal crossed the U.S. border into Texas last summer. On July 11, 2016, they became lost in the desert where—risking arrest and deportation—they flagged down a border patrol agent to take them to safety.
At the intake office, the sisters claim that the officer led them individually into a closet/pantry where he demanded that they strip and groped their unclothed genitals.
The LA Times reports:
Once [in the pantry] he ordered [the older sister] to remove her sweater, shirt, tank top and bra; she successfully pleaded to keep her bra but the officer fondled her breasts, the claim alleges.
He let her put her top back on but then ordered her to remove her pants, leggings and underwear; she begged to keep the underwear on, but he pulled down her underwear and touched her genitals with his hands, according to the claim, and she realized it wasn’t a weapons check but a sexual assault.
He returned to the cell and then took her young sister. The 17-year-old, in her claim filed Tuesday, said the officer repeated the conduct with her. As the pair began to cry afterward, the officer attempted to calm them down with chips and chocolates, the elder sister recalled.
The sisters—who now live with their mother, a US resident of 12 years, in Fresno, CA—reported the assault immediately to another officer at the intake office and an investigation was launched by the Department of Homeland Security. It is unknown if any disciplinary action was taken against the officer, who is also unnamed in the lawsuit. As of now, the sisters have not pressed criminal charges against him.
“We take allegations of misconduct seriously and there is no room in CBP for the mistreatment or misconduct of any kind toward those in our custody, a spokesperson of Customs and Border Protection told the LA Times, adding, “We do not tolerate corruption or abuse within our ranks, and we fully cooperate with any criminal or administrative investigation of alleged misconduct by any of our personnel, on or off duty.”
States Angélica Salceda, staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California, “CBP must be held accountable for its officer’s sexual abuse of these vulnerable victims. 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.”
The sisters have undergone counseling since the incident.
“I have suffered every day from this experience, and it has been extremely hard to sleep at night,” the older sister says.