Rochester sisters sue U.S. government over treatment at border detention center

A border patrol agent stands to the right of people sitting on the ground.
A migrant man, center, holds a child as he looks at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent at an intake area after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, early Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Roma, Texas.
Julio Cortez | AP file

In the summer of 2019, Kerlin Sanchez Villalobos and her younger sister were two of the thousands of migrant children held in detention centers along the United States/Mexico border. The images are hard for people to forget — kids in cages, being held in large warehouse-style buildings with concrete floors, cells overcrowded with children who had been stopped after trying to enter the country. Many of them were separated from their parents.

Kerlin at the time was 16 years old, her younger sister 14. Together they had left Honduras in May 2019 to reunite with their mother in Minnesota. After crossing over from Mexico to the United States in June, the sisters were arrested by Customs and Border Protection agents who brought them to the detention facility in Clint, Texas where they were held for nine days.

In all, Kerlin was detained for 20 days by the United States government. Her sister — 29 days. The ACLU of Minnesota, along with the ACLU of Texas and Dorsey & Whitney law firm, are representing the two young women in their lawsuit against the U.S. government that was filed in Minnesota earlier this month. The lawsuit alleges negligence, assault, and battery by CBP agents while the girls were detained in the facilities and is seeking $150,000 in damages. The girls' mother is acting on behalf of the youngest plaintiff, Kerlin's younger sister, who is still a minor.

Kerlin spoke with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer on Minnesota Now about her experience. Julio Zelaya, the community engagement director at ACLU-MN, served as her interpreter for the conversation.

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