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Arizona group: Migrant children reporting more claims of mistreatment

In this Tuesday, July 9, 2019, photo, decorations cover the walls of the rooms of immigrants at the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Long trailers once used to house oil workers in two-bedroom suites have been turned into 12-person dorms, with two pairs of bunk beds in each bedroom and the living room. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PHOENIX — After allegations of retaliation and sexual abuse of migrant children detained in Yuma, a group providing free legal services to migrant children is reporting more claims of mistreatment.

Attorneys with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project said migrant children they represent have told them of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions inside border facilities in Arizona.

Laura Belous, an advocacy attorney with the group, said a 13-year-old told them he was held in a small room with about 100 other migrant children, and there were only two bathrooms for the whole group.

“He was only fed two times a day, and each time it was just a small hamburger so he was often hungry,” she said. “He was cold. He didn’t’ have a blanket or a sweater, and he was sleeping on the ground.”

A 17-year-old boy also complained about overcrowded conditions. Belous said the teen told her group U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents wanted him to go inside a room that was already crowded with about 130 migrant children.

“There was just no room. He couldn’t go in,” she said. “In order to make room, CBP agents went in to that are and kicked children who were on the floor awake so that way they would move and make room.”

Belous added a 3-year-old girl was held in CBP custody for 14 days. During that time, she was separated from her adult sister, who’s her guardian.

“These stories are, unfortunately, very common when we talk to our clients,” she said.

In a statement sent to KTAR News 92.3 FM, a CBP official said the agency takes “all allegations seriously and all allegations will be investigated.”

This comes after an NBC News report said migrant children held in Yuma were mistreated.

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy claimed agents took sleeping mats away after he and others in his cell complained about the taste of water and food they were given. A 15-year-old girl from Honduras also alleged a “large, bearded officer” groped her in front of other people during a pat-down.

CBP said in the statement that the sexual assault claim was already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

“The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated,” the statement read.

Belous said the investigation by CBP is “a good first step.” She added her group has filed complaints to CBP detailing the claims of mistreatment they’ve heard from the migrant children they represent.

“The complaints that we filed to my knowledge have gone unanswered,” she said.

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