ACLU Case Challenging Inhumane Detention Conditions Moves Forward

Large Class of Immigrant Plaintiffs Certified

SAN DIEGO — A federal district court permitted a class action lawsuit challenging harmful and unconstitutional conditions of confinement by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to move forward  this week.

In Jane Doe, et al. v. Johnson, et al., the court certified a class of plaintiffs to include: “All individuals who are now or in the future will be detained for one or more nights at a CBP facility within the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. This class of thousands of present and future detainees includes traumatized asylum seekers and mothers with infants and small children who are held by CBP. The Tucson Sector covers most of Arizona, from the New Mexico state line to the Yuma County line.

The court denied the government’s attempts to dismiss the class representatives and their constitutional claims. It found that the two women representing the class were held by Border Patrol in the Tucson Sector when the lawsuit was filed in June 2015 and clearly had standing to bring this lawsuit.

The court also determined that plaintiffs had set out sufficient facts in their complaint to sustain their constitutional challenge to all of the harmful detention conditions. As a result, the case will proceed and CBP will have to publicly attempt to demonstrate that these conditions were proper and necessary.

On behalf of the plaintiff class, lawyers from Morrison & Foerster LLP, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Arizona, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area assert in the lawsuit that Border Patrol holds individuals in harmful and degrading conditions including:

  • housing persons for days in overcrowded and dirty cells that are designed to hold  people for a few hours;
  • keeping lights glaring day and night; and
  • stripping immigrants of their outer layers of clothing while subjecting them to brutally cold temperatures
  • depriving people of beds, bedding, sleep, adequate food, water, medical screening upon arrival, and basic sanitation and hygiene items, such as soap, toilet paper, sanitary napkins, diapers, and showers.

“Taken as true, these and numerous similar allegations in the Complaint show that Plaintiffs have suffered or that they or putative class members are likely to suffer deprivations of adequate sleep, sanitary conditions, medical care, food and water, and warmth in CBP Tucson Sector facilities as Plaintiffs claim,” the district court wrote in the ruling on the government’s motion to dismiss.

The harsh conditions endured by the individual plaintiffs are representative of the experience of thousands who were and continue to be detained,” said Nora A. Preciado, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “Because of these plaintiffs’ bravery, many more individuals will be represented and impacted by this case going forward.”

“Civil migrants detained in the Tucson sector have long suffered horrific conditions,” said Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the ACLU of Arizona. “Absent court intervention the Border Patrol will continue to operate in violation of U.S. and international law in disregard of the rights and wellbeing of thousands with no accountability.”

“With these rulings, we can now focus on building a record and documenting the abhorrent conditions that detained individuals must endure and to ending these conditions once and for all,” said Mary Kenney, a senior attorney at the American Immigration Council.

“These rulings are significant,” said Morrison & Foerster partner Colette Reiner Mayer. “The Government must now respond to the voluminous evidence of civil rights violations ongoing in the Arizona detention facilities. We are looking forward to the resolution of our preliminary injunction motion so that the class can begin getting relief.”

While fighting for relief from unconstitutional detention conditions, plaintiffs also continue to fight the government’s efforts to keep detention conditions hidden from the public. Defendants have revealed to plaintiffs, through discovery, written records and recordings illustrating the harsh treatment of individuals in the custody of Border Patrol. The government is fighting hard to keep these documents under seal and to block plaintiffs’ ability to share the information with the broader public.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

For additional information about the case, including the complaint, answers to frequently asked questions, and a fact sheet on FOIA data about Border Patrol detention facilities, click here.

Monday’s orders are available here and here.

freezer conditions-PeterODowd-Fronteras





Photo credit: Peter O’Dowd/Fronteras