LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
There has been growing outrage and concern over the Trump administration's new policy of separating the families of migrants crossing the border illegally - mothers from children, fathers from babies. In hundreds of cases of migrant children crossing the border, kids have been taken into protective care. But officials in charge of those minors have lost track of where they are and who they're with and if they're safe. But a new report alleges America has been failing migrant children for a while now. This past week, the ACLU uncovered what it says was systematic abuse by U.S. customs and border protection agents under the Obama administration. Claudia Flores is a University of Chicago law professor who helped draft the report. And she joins us now to talk about it. Welcome.
CLAUDIA FLORES: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The abuse this report details took place from 2009 to 2014 under the Obama administration. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request. It received 30,000 internal documents. And you and your students reviewed a group of them. Can you tell me the findings?
FLORES: Sure. The documents were a combination of complaints filed by children and also documentation from the investigations conducted by CRCL, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Essentially, what we found were patterns of abuse as reflected in the complaints and what appeared to be ineffective efforts to resolve these complaints and to conduct investigations.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you give me an example?
FLORES: Sure. There were a number of examples of physical abuse, children being punched in the head, kicked in the ribs, stun guns used on them, patrol vehicles running over children, verbal abuse, denial of medical attention to pregnant minors and some sexual abuse of girls by border patrol officers and ineffective sanitation in the cells and in the conditions the children were held.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say that the CBP, Customs and Border Protection, has dismissed these allegations, saying they were, "patently baseless" - that's a quote - and that many of the alleged incidents were investigated and dismissed.
FLORES: Yeah. So the difficult thing about ineffective investigations is that all claims remain unsubstantiated. But a review of the documents really does demonstrate patterns of abuse. And so if you look at these allegations, they're incredibly detailed what the children are saying. And the complaints really demonstrated that there was ineffective supervision and ineffective accountability.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As I mentioned, these allegations are coming to light at a time when the Trump administration has a stated policy - a government policy of separating families at the border, leaving kids and, in some cases, infants adrift in a foster system or under custody. How should we view the alleged abuse under the Obama administration in light of this new policy?
FLORES: I think there is definitely cause for concern that things appear to be getting worse. The rhetoric that is being used by the current administration - not only by President Trump but Attorney General Jeff Sessions - that has used words like stampede and invade when describing migrants' attempts to enter the country. It does seem like there is a situation that is getting worse. And this week on Wednesday, there was even a report of a 20-year-old young woman who was shot by a border patrol officer.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are these new policies affecting migrant families, in your view?
FLORES: Well, the separation is making it obviously more difficult for migrant families. And frankly, the policies are incredibly ineffective. From the perspective of migrant children, migrant children have no idea what they're getting into. They don't know our complicated immigration policies. They're not going to be deterred from trying to escape violent societies and extreme poverty by the policies that the current administration is instituting.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Claudia Flores, a University of Chicago law professor who worked on a report for the ACLU. Thank you so much.
FLORES: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.