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Federal government to pay $125,000 to settle alleged sexual assault of teen girl at border

ACLU attorney Angelica Salceda talks with one of two sisters the ACLU of Northern California Fresno office is representing on March 22, 2017. The sister allege a Border Patrol officer sexually assaulted them while they were detained after crossing the border intoTexas last summer.
ACLU attorney Angelica Salceda talks with one of two sisters the ACLU of Northern California Fresno office is representing on March 22, 2017. The sister allege a Border Patrol officer sexually assaulted them while they were detained after crossing the border intoTexas last summer. jwalker@fresnobee.com

A teenager who was allegedly sexually assaulted at the U.S.-Mexico border by a border patrol agent as she and her sister attempted to reach their mother in Fresno has settled a lawsuit with the federal government, the ACLU of Northern California said Tuesday.

The sisters were 17 and 19 when agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection picked them up in the Texas desert in July 2016. The two were attempting to flee violence in Guatemala and reunite with their mother, who lived in the Fresno area. Each was allegedly assaulted during their captivity at a border patrol facility. Only the younger sister pushed forward on the case.

In March 2017, the ACLU filed two administrative torts on behalf of the sisters. They sought $1.5 million – $750,000 for each woman – in damages. The ACLU then filed a lawsuit against the government on behalf of the younger sister in March 2018, and the government agreed to settle the case for $125,000 in October.

The border patrol declined to comment on the settlement.

Alleged assault described

The older sister described her alleged assault in a March 2017 interview with The Bee, which does not disclose the identities of sexual assault victims.

“He took me to the pantry and told me he had to search me for his own safety,” the older sister said. “I took off my sweater, then my shirt. 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 officer then lifted her bra and began touching her breasts, she said. He told her to take off her underwear. “I asked why, and he said, ‘For security,’” she said.

After she removed them, the officer began touching her genitals, she said. After a short time, she was allowed to put her clothes back on, and the officer returned her to the cell.

“He told my sister: ‘Now it’s your turn,’” the older sister said. “She came back crying. I asked her what happened. She said she didn’t know if what the agent did was just him doing his job.”

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Elder sister didn’t pursue

The October settlement covers the alleged sexual assault of the younger sister. ACLU spokeswoman Leslie Fulbright said Tuesday that the elder sister decided not to move forward with legal proceedings, citing personal reasons.

The family still lives in Fresno County.

“We’re glad our client will receive some compensation for the emotional and physical abuse that a Border Patrol agent inflicted on her,” ACLU attorney Angélica Salceda said. “Too often, immigrant children seeking refuge from trauma and abuse in their home countries experience additional mistreatment at the hands of (Border Patrol). These officers are not above the law, and abuses of power must not be tolerated.”

The ACLU said it was not clear whether the sisters’ alleged attacker, named by the ACLU as Fernando Saucedo III, faced disciplinary action or was still employed with the Border Patrol.

President Trump issued a memorandum authorizing deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Since Congress created the Border Patrol in 1924, U.S. presidents have sent National Guard troops to assist with operations at the border.

Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.


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