MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Two teen sisters who experienced severe abuse and mistreatment while in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have received an $80,000 settlement from the federal government for their pain and suffering.
Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos and her mother (acting on behalf of the younger daughter, Y.S., who is still a minor) sued in federal court in October 2021 over their experiences. They were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the ACLU of Texas.
“We hope that the lawsuit and sharing our story changes how the government treats children who are coming to America,” said Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos. “I don’t want any other kid to be treated the way we were.”
In June 2019, CBP agents arrested the sisters as they crossed over the Mexican border. The teen girls’ subsequent journey through detention centers and group homes in Texas showcase our federal government’s punitive policy toward people seeking freedom and safety in the United States, as well as a complete lack of oversight, safeguards, and accountability in our immigration system.
“Children who are alone at the border are already terrified and vulnerable, and having Customs and Border Protection agents deny medical care, physically abuse them and make children compete for food is an inhumane and inexcusable violation of these children’s rights,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “We hope this settlement helps hold CBP accountable for its long history of detaining children in substandard conditions and serves as a further indictment of our broken immigration system.”
The government’s mistreatment of the sisters – who were 14 and 16 at the time – included:
- Physical assault
- Failing to provide adequate food or any water, and forcing children to compete for food
- Forcing the girls to sleep in overcrowded cages without enough bedding
- Failing to give the girls basic necessities such as access to showers, clean clothes, or toothbrushes
- Throwing away needed medication and failing to provide treatment
- Forcing them to watch the mistreatment of other children
- Forcing them to care for even younger children.
“Just being locked away, it’s awful,” Kerlin recalled. “Children are crying, it was horrible... . The officers told us to shut the crying kids up. Us older kids, we would just try to console them and talk to them. What I would do is braid their hair.”
“Abuses like those perpetrated against our clients are far too common. This settlement is an important step in holding CBP agents accountable. The agency must take every possible measure to prevent the mistreatment of anyone else in its custody,” said Bernardo Cruz, staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas.
The Texas group homes where the sisters stayed have been cited for significant violations, but that didn’t stop the federal government from placing the sisters there. In total, Kerlin spent 20 days in detention, and Y.S. spent 29 days.
The girls, now ages 19 and 17, are attending high school in Rochester and working. Both hope to help others as they get older. Kerlin wants to continue her education, while her sister wants to be a veterinarian or nurse.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and ACLU of Texas are nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations dedicated to protecting and promoting civil liberties.