Original article appeared in Tucson Weekly.
By María Inés Taracena
The lawsuit filled today was based on the testimonies of more than 75 former detainees who say men, women and children were kept in freezing, overcrowded and dirty cells for long periods of time, were oftentimes abused by agents, and denied access to beds, showers, water, medical care and even legal representation, said a press release from the National Immigration Law Center.
They argue this is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Our plaintiffs were detained for civil matters, but there is nothing civil about being deprived of water, provided inadequate or expired food, and being subjected to sleep deprivation,” said Nora Preciado, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement. “We filed this lawsuit because the federal government has systemically failed to adhere to its own meager standards and constitutional requirements and thousands of people have suffered as a result.”
From the press release:
Former and current detainees described being packed into crowded cells with only concrete benches or the floor for a “bed.” They were stripped of warm clothing and provided with only flimsy aluminum sheets that do not protect against the frigid temperatures. In most cases, the lights are left on 24 hours a day, making sleep difficult, if not impossible. Immigrants have no soap or water to wash after using the restroom and before meals, and do not have access to showers.
The government’s own standards state that people should be detained in holding cells like those in the Tucson Border Patrol facility for no more than 12 hours, but all of the plaintiffs were held for much longer. In fact, Border Patrol’s own records show that, during a six month period in 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detained over 58,000 people for 24 hours or longer in holding cells within the Tucson Sector; more than 24,000 of these individuals were held for 48 hours or longer.
“Border Patrol seems to think these brutal conditions, and the human suffering that results, will deter immigration, but the fact is that many of these people are fleeing persecution and violence, reuniting with family, or are themselves U.S. citizens,” said a statement from James Duff Lyall, an attorney with ACLU of Arizona. “These policies and practices serve no legitimate purpose, violate the U.S. Constitution, and offend basic American values.”