It was with dreams of Fresno and a mother they hadn’t seen in more than a decade that two teenage sisters set out from their gang-ravaged home in Guatemala last summer and illegally crossed the U.S. border into Texas.
Lost in the desert, they flagged down two Border Patrol agents for help.
Instead, they were groped in the pantry of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection intake facility by an officer who gave them food so they’d stop crying, according to claims filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
“(He) told me he had to search me for his own safety. I took off my sweater, then my shirt,” the older sister told The Bee’s Rory Appleton. “I kept asking him why. Then I took off my tank top. He asked me to take off my bra, but I didn’t want to, so I loosened it so he could see inside.”
The details from their alleged experiences the night of July 11, 2106, only get more horrific from there.
Unfortunately, stories about misconduct by Customs and Border Protection employees – of the sexual and violent variety – are nothing new. Neither are stories about corruption involving Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
But with President Trump’s administration vowing to hire a “deportation force,” possibly lowering hiring standards and scaling back or rushing training to get 15,000 additional agents into the field quickly, these stories have taken on a new urgency.
Just last week, the federal government agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit out of San Diego over the death of a Mexican teenager, who was told by two Border Patrol agents to sip liquid from two bottles they claimed contained apple juice. In fact, they contained liquid meth and the boy died.
In Arizona, it recently came to light that Border Patrol agents either lost or destroyed a video showing the 2012 killing of a Mexican teenager by an agent who fired across the border fence. The agent has been charged with second-degree murder.
Yes, elections have consequences, and President Trump promised to fortify the border. But the federal government must not cut corners to hire more agents.
There are conflicting reports about whether the U.S. Department of Homeland Security plans to stop requiring all Border Patrol applicants to take lie-detector tests. Leaked memos say yes. Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who oversees Border Patrol and ICE, has said standards will stay rigorous.
Two out of three job candidates fail the exam, according to The Associated Press, and the results tend to weed out people with criminal backgrounds and some would-be double agents for drug cartels.
Meanwhile, in its most recent report to Congress, Homeland Security said the number of Customs and Border Protection employees accused of sexual assault is small. It should remain that way.
The sisters in Fresno await answers. They want to know the name of their alleged attacker and whether he was disciplined. Homeland Security has six months to respond. If it doesn’t, the ACLU likely will file a lawsuit.
It’s a tragic and costly situation that the Trump administration should do everything it can to avoid repeating.