“I felt like I was not treated like a person, but I was treated practically like an animal. I was afraid that I would freeze of death, I would die of hunger, or I would die of thirst.”
This is the testimony of one woman who was forced to endure unconscionable conditions inside a cell operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). She spoke these words in the federal courthouse in Tucson, where last week, our trial started against the agency to challenge inhumane and unconstitutional detention conditions.
Poverty, fear of persecution for one's sexual orientation, fleeing from death threats. These are the horrifying stories we hear from migrants seeking safe harbor in the United States. Instead of receiving them into our country, U.S Border Patrol locks them up in cold, overcrowded and filthy cells, where many have no access to beds, soap, showers, adequate meals, drinkable water, or medical care.
In the summer of 2015, we interviewed migrants who revealed these appalling detention conditions as well as abusive treatment by border officials. Minor children and infants are detained in these “iceboxes.” One woman even described the humiliation she felt when she was denied a sanitary napkin while menstruating.
Sadly, these abominable conditions have been persistant for years. Advocates and attorneys have extensively documented the systemic and ongoing problems that migrants face while in Border Patrol custody. And detention conditions under the Trump administration have only gotten worse. We've heard the horror stories. Chaotic policies crafted to undo asylum protections and a dramatic expansion in the use of detention have led to increased crowding in detention facilities in the Tucson sector. Overcrowding then triggers and exacerbates other issues like hygiene, sanitation, health, and safety, and has led to an overall degradation of conditions.
In November 2016, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in our case, Doe v. Wolf, ordering CBP to immediately begin providing any detainee held for more than 12 hours with a meal and blanket, as well as some means to clean themselves and required the agency to conduct basic medical screening, among other things. Yet, despite these court orders, conditions across the Tucson sector remain unconstitutional and unacceptably dangerous.
We were in court fighting to change that. Together with our co-counsel, the National Immigration Law Center, the American Immigration Council, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, we argued for increased protections for migrants in Border Patrol custody that comply with the Constitution.
We cannot allow immigration officials to continue to treat vulnerable women, men, and children with indignity. Multiple deaths of migrants in Border Patrol custody demonstrate the severity of the danger that persists in detention facilities. From challenging prolonged detention to reuniting parents with their children, we've been fighting for the rights of migrants for years, and we won’t stop now. For far too long, Border Patrol has gone unchecked, trampling on the rights of migrants and border residents alike.