TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The ACLU filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking information about allegations of abuse involving migrant children, including many who were placed under the care of immigration authorities while a wave of unaccompanied minors fled to the U.S. last summer.
ACLU chapters in Arizona and Southern California filed the suit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, claiming the government has stonewalled requests made under the Freedom of Information Act for records pertaining to the children. The law firm Cooley LLP also joined the suit.
The ACLU and other advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in October against DHS seeking information on the department's policies and procedures at an isolated detention center for immigrant families with children in New Mexico.
Both suits stemmed from the unprecedented surge in immigrant children and young families this summer, but ACLU of Arizona attorney James Lyall said issues with how immigration authorities treat children existed long before the wave of children last summer.
"There's also something we learned in the course of preparing that complaint is that many other organizations have filed complaints and have been ignored," Lyall said.
Last summer, tens of thousands of migrants crossed into the U.S. illegally, most through Texas, overwhelming Border Patrol agents who were not positioned to process so many people. Many migrant children who had crossed without a parent were sent to a warehouse in Nogales, Arizona, while they were processed. Some families were eventually sent to the new center in Artesia, New Mexico.
Most of the migrants were from Central American countries and said they were fleeing extreme violence and poverty.
The ACLU in June filed a complaint alleging that dozens of children had been abused and mistreated while in Border Patrol custody. The organization says the children were kept in harsh temperatures and severe overcrowding, and that they were denied adequate hygiene supplies, bedding, food, water and medical care.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Michael Friel said in a statement that the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
However, he said that CBP takes allegations of misconduct seriously.
"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," Friel said. He said Border Patrol agents took extraordinary efforts to care for the children.