Federal judge sides with migrants in lawsuit over conditions in border facilities

Federal judge sides with migrants in lawsuit over conditions in border facilities
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A federal judge in Arizona ruled in favor of migrant advocates on Wednesday in a lawsuit alleging inhumane and unsanitary conditions in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities in Tucson. 

U.S. District Judge David C. Bury ordered CBP to provide a bed, blanket, shower, potable food and water, and medical assessment for every migrant held more than 48 hours. The ruling would also make permanent a preliminary injunction Bury issued in 2016 that requires CBP to provide clean mats and thin blankets to migrants held for longer than 12 hours and to allow access to body wipes.

The migrants were represented by the law firm Morrison & Foerster, as well as attorneys from the National Immigration Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, American Immigration Council and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.


Currently migrants are held on the floors of said facilities, which have been infamously dubbed “hieleras,” or iceboxes, with mylar blankets. 

The judge, who was nominated by former President George W. Bush, ruled that CBP will not be able to hold people for more than 48 hours “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.”

The lawsuit was first filed in 2015, before the most recent influx of asylum-seekers. The lengthy litigation reportedly frustrated Bury during the final days of the trial. 

“Nobody has done anything. Is that why a court has to jump in?” Bury asked during the last day of trial on Jan. 22, according to The Associated Press“It just seems like the lack of a response to these numbers just calls for a court order.” 

Government lawyers argued that the detention facilities are not subject to the same constitutional minimums because they are merely processing facilities. 

Alvaro Huerta, an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said the judge’s ruling Wednesday creates a precedent that extends constitutional minimums to migrants in CBP custody.


“After several years we have seen that CBP has shown that they won’t change the way they treat people in confinement until a court orders it,” Huerta said in a press call. “This is an important case not only for the thousands of people who go through CBP processing everyday, we’re going to see their treatment from what it is now, but I think it’s incredibly important because it sets constitutional minimums for the way people in detention should be treated…  We hope and expect this will have ramifications beyond the Tucson Sector.”

CBP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Updated at 10:39 p.m.