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Detention centers where migrants are forced to sleep in bathrooms violate constitution, rules judge

Detainees held for more than two days must be provided conditions that meet basic human necessities, including a real bed with a blanket, nutritious food, and access to a shower.

Detention centers where migrants are forced to sleep in bathrooms violate constitution, rules judge
Cover Image Source: Immigrant rights protesters participate in a demonstration on October 11, 2019, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Arizona ruled that the Border Patrol facilities in the Tucson sector violated the Constitution. U.S. District Judge David C. Bury stated that the migrant holding cells deprive their inhabitants of "basic human needs," with conditions substantially worse than those in jails or prisons. He has now issued an order barring the US Customs and Border Protection from holding migrants for more than 48 hours in the Tucson sector after they've been processed. Detainees held for more than two days must be provided a variety of things they were deprived of up until then, including a real bed with a blanket, nutritious food, access to a shower, and more.



According to CNN, the lawsuit over conditions in the Tucson sector was first filed in 2015. The latest ruling follows a January trial in which lawyers representing migrants presented images that reportedly revealed the dangerously overcrowded conditions at CBP facilities. Citing these conditions in his ruling, Bury banned the use of bathrooms for sleeping, calling it unsanitary and degrading. "Being forced to sleep in a toilet area due to overcrowding offends the notions of common decency; it is unsanitary and degrading for all detainees who either have to sleep in the toilet area or try to use the toilet when others are sleeping there," he wrote.



"The Court finds that the conditions of detention in CBP holding cells, especially those that preclude sleep over several nights, are presumptively punitive and violate the Constitution," the judge stated. Although the agency's policies specify that detainees generally should not be held for longer for 72 hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities, this hasn't been the case. "In 2019, the average time spent in CBP custody in the Tucson Sector was 53.92 hours, with 34% of 63,490 detainees being held longer than 48 hours, 9,798 were held up to 72 hours and 12,030 individuals were held longer than 72 hours," Bury stated in his ruling.



The federal judge further noted that officials were "administering a detention system that deprives detainees, who are held in CBP stations, Tucson Sector, longer than 48 hours, of conditions of confinement that meet basic human needs." Bury has now barred US Customs and Border Protection from holding migrants in these facilities for more than two days, "unless and until CBP can provide conditions of confinement that meet detainees' basic human needs for sleeping in a bed with a blanket, a shower, food that meets acceptable dietary standards, potable water, and medical assessment performed by a medical professional."



When asked to comment on the judge's ruling, CBP responded that the agency was reviewing the ruling and that it deferred to the Department of Justice for matters in litigation. "As an agency, we encounter a diverse population of people from all over the world, and we are committed to the health, safety, and humane care of every individual in our custody," the federal agency said in a written statement. Meanwhile, Bury's ruling was welcomed by advocates who praised the judge for recognizing and calling out the inhumane conditions in which migrants have been held in detention centers.



"We're ecstatic that a court has finally recognized and made CBP change the way that it's going to do its work and is requiring them to at least provide some basic human decency in the method that it treats people," said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. "This is an incredibly important case not only for the thousands of people who go through CBP processing every day -- we're going to see their treatment improve dramatically. But I think it's incredibly important because this sets constitutional minimums for the way people in detention should be treated, so we hope and expect that this is going to have ramifications beyond the Tucson sector," Huerta added.



Attorney Colette Reiner Mayer—who served as trial counsel in the case—pointed out that other courts wouldn't be bound by the judge's ruling. "But the analysis is quite thorough. It's from a judge that is a respected judge. And I would expect that other districts would take note. I don't know of plans to file other lawsuits. But I wouldn't be surprised if there are some now that there is something where there's such a clear analysis of a constitutional baseline," she remarked.

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