Media Contact

Lynette Kalsnes, lkalsnes@aclu-mn.org, 612-270-8531

October 18, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos and her younger sister are suing the United States in U.S. District Court in Minnesota after they experienced severe abuse and mistreatment by the immigration system.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the ACLU of Texas, and Dorsey & Whitney LLP will represent the plaintiffs in federal court.

The sisters crossed over from Mexico in June 2019 and were arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents. The teen girls’ subsequent journey through detention centers and group homes in Texas showcases 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. On Monday, Kerlin and her mother (acting on behalf of the younger daughter, Y.S., who is still a minor) brought a lawsuit over their experiences.

“Despite decades of court orders establishing a government duty to protect and care for unaccompanied children, the government failed to meet its minimum requirements, going so far as to make children compete for their food and denying medical care,” said ACLU-MN Staff Attorney Ian Bratlie. “Vulnerable children should never be degraded, terrified, and assaulted the way these two sisters were.”

The government’s mistreatment of the sisters — who were 14 and 16 — included:

  • Physical assault
  • Failing to provide adequate food or any water, and forcing children to compete for food
  • Throwing away needed medication and failing to provide treatment
  • Forcing them to watch the mistreatment of other children
  • Forcing them to care for young children.

“Just being locked away, it’s awful,” Kerlin said. “Children are crying, kids are fainting. All kinds of atrocities happened there. There were little kids that were crying because they were separated from adults. The officers told us to control the children. Us older kids, we would just try to console them and talk to them. What I would do is braid their hair.”

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.

“What happened to Kerlin and Y.S. is part of a shameful history of abuse and mistreatment of young asylum seekers by CBP," said Bernardo R. Cruz, ACLU of Texas staff attorney. “The U.S. government must be held accountable for CBP’s long-standing practice of Border Patrol agents verbally abusing children and detaining them in horrible conditions. Children seeking asylum in this country are among the most vulnerable members of our society, and they are entitled to dignity and respect."

“Community is a Dorsey core value, and pro bono work is one of the most important ways we give back to the community,” said Dorsey Partner Mike Stinson. Fellow partner Jillian Kornblatt explained, “We are proud to join forces with the ACLU of Minnesota and Texas to help eliminate the mistreatment of children detained at our border.”

The lawsuit asks the court to find the government committed negligence, assault, battery, and to award damages.