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Immigration Activists File Class Action Suit Against Border Patrol Over Treatment of Detained Immigrants

First Posted: Jun 12, 2015 04:42 PM EDT
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Photo : John Moore/Getty Images

A group of immigrant activist and civil rights groups have filed a class-action suit on behalf of three people against the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, claiming CBP's Tucson area officers violated CBP policy concerning the detainment and treatment of immigrants.

The American Immigration Council along with the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Arizona, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Morrison & Foerster LLP on behalf of two unidentified immigrant women and a Tucson man, according to an AIC press release.

The lawsuit argues the Tucson Sector CBP violated the plaintiffs' right to due process, established in the Fifth Amendment, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act.

The complaint lists Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael J. Fisher, Arizona Joint Field Commander Jeffrey Self, and Chief Patrol Agent of Tucson Sector Manuel Padilla, Jr. as defendants. The plaintiffs are the two unnamed women and Norlan Flores.

The complaint argues the CBP in Tucson subjected the plaintiffs, as well as other detainees, to "inhumane and dangerous conditions" while under their custody. The facilities operated within Tucson Sector failed to provide detainees with bedding, appropriate medical care, soap and basic hygiene necessities as well as potable water. Pregnant women and children were deprived of warm clothing and forced to sleep in overcrowded concrete cells referred to as hieleras or iceboxes.

Detainees were denied access to the outside and were only removed from the cells for questioning. However, according to CBP policy, detainees are only meant to be held in holding cells for up to 12 hours. The plaintiffs argue CBP held them in these conditions for two to three days, violating CBP policy as well as their Fifth Amendment rights.

The groups interviewed hundreds of detainees and incorporated their statements to create a picture of the conditions within the facilities in Tucson Sector.

"The inhumane and dangerous conditions in the Tucson Sector facilities result in irreparable, ongoing physical and psychological harm to Plaintiffs and putative class members and serious risk of future harm," the complaint states.

The class certification motion argues the plaintiffs' right to due process, which "prohibits the federal government from punishing people who have not been convicted of a crime," because they are being held in "punitive, inhumane conditions."

"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."

According to the Tucson Sentinel, the CBP in the past has refuted previous claims of immigrant detainees being mistreated and released a statement saying it takes "safety and welfare of individuals in its custody seriously."

"On a daily basis, agents make every effort to ensure that those in our custody are given food, water, and medical attention as needed. CBP investigates all allegations of misconduct, and is committed to making continued progress in detainee treatment and the emphasis of policies that protect human life and treat individuals with dignity and respect," it continued.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Arizona and asks the federal court to ensure the agents follow new guidelines via court order.

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