A group of U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants filed a series of lawsuits and administrative complaints on Tuesday claiming they were abused by Customs and Border Protection agents.
The suits, filed on behalf of 10 plaintiffs, allege a pattern of abuse by Border Patrol agents. There were just over 4,000 CBP agents in 1993, and there were more than 21,000 in 2012. The suits allege the abuse is increasing along with the size of the agency.
"I don't think these are isolated cases," said Melissa Crow, who is representing one of the plaintiffs and is the director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council. "The spectrum of cases we're presenting exemplifies the culture of impunity that has taken hold at CBP."
One of the cases claims that one man and three women who were illegally crossing the border were placed in a holding cell described by CBP agents as the "hielera," or "icebox."
Joseph Anderson, the immigrants' lawyer and the director of litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice, said they were forced to stay in the cell with no beds or toilet for up to six days with their fingers and lips turning blue and cracking from the cold before they were shipped to other facilities to await deportation.
"Based on having heard this from many, many people, and having each of them describe the same temperatures, it became clear to us that they didn't just have a great air-conditioning system," Anderson said.
Among the plaintiffs is a 63-year-old woman who said she had to sit in the back seat of a car for eight hours without food or water, and a 4-year-old girl from New York who was prohibited from entering the country after a trip to Guatemala because her parents were undocumented.
Lucy Rogers, 27, a social worker and naturalized U.S. citizen, alleged that in December 2011 she was pulled over by Border Patrol agents in upstate New York while transporting two clients to a doctor. She said she did not know the clients were illegal immigrants, and that agents held her for several hours on suspicion of human trafficking and confiscated the GPS unit of her car.
Agency spokeswoman Jenny Burke said CBP does not comment on pending litigation but said they stress "honor and integrity" in every aspect of their mission.