A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent allegedly sought out and harassed an undocumented Guatemalan woman living in California.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent allegedly sought out an undocumented Guatemalan woman living in California, sent her Facebook messages and asked her to watch a live video of him masturbating — all while her 12-year-old son was in custody at the Border Patrol station in Clint, where he worked, according to an April complaint filed with CBP and interviews with the mother.
The complaint, obtained by The Washington Post, outlines conversations between the agent and the woman that she viewed as coercive, beginning with his asking for her Facebook handle after she was allowed to speak by phone with her son, who had been taken into custody at the border. She said in interviews that she had hoped the communication would yield information about her son but that instead she endured sexual advances from a CBP agent at the facility where her son was detained.
“I felt like the world was falling on top of me,” said the 48-year-old woman, an undocumented immigrant who came to the country from Guatemala and now lives in California. She spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the agent and other immigration authorities. “I felt my son is in the hands of a bad man.”
A CBP spokesman said Tuesday that the agency was aware of the woman’s allegations and that an investigation was underway, but he said CBP could not comment on the ongoing probe.
“The vast majority of CBP employees are dedicated, honest, compassionate and fair professionals,” spokesman Matthew F. Leas said. “This alleged conduct is not in line with our code of conduct and will not be tolerated.”
CBP declined to say whether the agent was still reporting for duty at the Clint Border Patrol station. Because the investigation is ongoing and he has not been charged, The Post is not identifying the agent; attempts to reach him have been unsuccessful.
The accusations have come to light as the agency battles an onslaught of criticism and allegations of abuse at its facilities. The Border Patrol has faced scrutiny for its employees’ use of a private Facebook group, with dozens of current and former agents under investigation for allegedly making racist, sexist or otherwise derogatory posts about migrants and members of Congress.
An influx of Central American families and unaccompanied children across the southern U.S. border has strained CBP operations, crowded Border Patrol stations with thousands of detainees and forced some agents to abandon their typical duties to look after unaccompanied children.
The treatment of child detainees and the conditions in Clint, in particular, have garnered widespread attention in recent weeks after a group of lawyers visited the Border Patrol station outside El Paso and reported seeing children living in squalor, with older children left to care for younger children.
The outcry that followed helped spur congressional approval of a $4.6 billion emergency spending package that the Trump administration said was needed to improve detention conditions and facilitate transfers of children out of Border Patrol custody.
One of the children caught up in the backlog was the 12-year-old boy from Guatemala. His mother told The Post that he crossed the border April 18 in an attempt to reunite with her in California, where she has lived for nearly all of his life while working as a housecleaner to earn money for her family in Central America. She said she sent for her son in Guatemala because he had reached an age when boys are targeted for gang membership or are persecuted for not joining.
After the boy crossed the border, the Border Patrol took him into custody and contacted his mother to tell her that he was being held at Clint. Two days after that, she said, she received a call from her son. The conversation was brief: She asked him how he was doing, and he told her he was fine.
“I asked him where he was calling me from, and he didn’t know,” she said. “Then I heard the voice of this officer, and the officer took the phone.”
“You see, Señora, your son is OK,” the new voice said in Spanish.
“You do a great job, helping so many children,” she answered, hoping for another chance to speak to her son.
The agent seemed friendly, “educated and respectful,” she remembered, noting that he said he wanted to be her friend and wanted to keep her informed about her son’s situation while he was at the facility.
“It felt like a relief to have someone on the inside who could tell me what was going on day and night,” she said in a recent interview.
She said the agent suggested that they speak by video chat on Facebook Messenger and said that he would send her a friend request using an alias.
Looking back on the conversation, the woman said that was the moment she “fell into his trap.”
That afternoon, her phone buzzed. It was a video request from the alias he had described, depicting an avatar of a sports team’s logo.
When she answered, the live video popped up on her screen and she could see the agent for the first time. The man appeared to be lying on a bed, with the camera aimed at the lower half of his body. She could see his dark brown shorts, legs and bare feet.
She thought it strange and asked to see his face. He flashed the camera upward for a moment before settling it again on his shorts.
For 25 minutes — 24 minutes and 50 seconds, according to the chat logs — the two talked, she said.
He told her about his family life, a failed relationship, how he attended church. Then he asked whether she was single.
She demurred, telling him that she had fled domestic violence in Guatemala in 2007 to come to the United States. But it would be nice to meet in person, she offered. She said it was a shame he was too far away.
She said he responded that the distance would not be a problem, that the two could still get to know each other. He asked her whether there were people nearby.
When she said there were not, he slipped his hand inside his shorts and appeared to start masturbating, she said.
“‘Look at me. Look at me,’” she remembered him pleading when she looked away. “‘Do you like it?’”
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to act,” she said. “I thought, ‘My God, what is going to happen with my child? Did this guy do anything to him?’” The woman said she escaped the Facebook call when her phone battery suddenly died.
When her phone came back on, she saw that the agent had sent her a flurry of Facebook messages with sad-face emoji.
“I need you :(” he wrote in Spanish, in messages viewed by The Post. “You didn’t answer anymore :(”
“I don’t know what you thought of me,” she replied.
She was afraid, alone in her room, and she began to cry. That night she couldn’t sleep. And the next day, feeling increasingly panicked, she texted the agent to ask whether her son was still at Clint. The agent said he was, so she pleaded with him to help her, to let her speak with him. “Please don’t be bad. … Don’t forget that I am alone here,” she wrote.
“I’m busy now,” the agent responded.
Fearful of retribution against her son, the woman found an immigrant legal-aid hotline through her church and called it. The hotline connected her to a legal-aid group, which promptly detailed her complaint in an email to senior CBP officials.
“She is obviously frightened and does not want her son in the hands of this agent,” read the complaint, which was submitted April 24 and contained the dates of the allegations and the name of the accused agent. “These are very serious allegations and we wanted to make sure that first and foremost the child is safe and that these allegations are investigated.”
Within days, the woman received word that her son had been transferred out of the Clint Border Patrol station and into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, which manages the long-term care of “Unaccompanied Alien Children” and coordinates family reunifications.
In mid-May, her son still in government custody, the woman said she met with two investigators from CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, one of the offices tasked with internal personnel investigations. They interviewed her about her complaint, went over copies of her Facebook Messenger exchange with the agent and asked her to put the messages in order.
On June 12, she was reunited with her son, whom she had not seen since she left him in the care of relatives when he was 8 months old.
He told her that conditions at Clint were difficult. He had been unable to brush his teeth for eight days there. He said some border agents were kind to him: One told him that he should grow up to become a doctor, and another offered him extra burritos and juice to look after another child with special needs. But the agent who had taken the phone from him that day as he spoke to his mother — that was the man he and the other children feared, he told The Post.
The boy described the agent in detail, saying that he stood out to the migrants there. He said the agent cursed at the children, ridiculed some of them as “ugly” and told them that they would “regret coming to this country.”
When the agent saw some of the boys looking at his gun, “he said we didn’t have permission to look at his gun, and he said if we touched the gun, he’d shoot us,” the boy said. “He also said that if we whistled at the girls or touched them, they could shoot us.”
The woman said she was never notified of the outcome of the investigation, which authorities said is ongoing.
But since that Facebook video call, the woman said she has been unable to quell her fear that the CBP agent could seek to come after her or her son in retaliation for her complaint. The government knows her address, her name, her telephone number — everything, she said.
“He could come, or he could send someone else,” she said. “He’s the law, right?”
BY ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST
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