(MARCH 13, 2013, MIAMI, FL) Americans for Immigrants Justice announced that it has filed Federal Tort Claims actions on behalf of four immigrants who were subjected to inhumane and unlawful treatment by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We are seeking damages for cruel and inhumane treatment suffered by our clients.
In January/February 2013 several individuals, ranging from twenty-one to thirty years of age, were apprehended in Texas by CBP Officers. After being apprehended, they were taken by CBP to what the CBP officers called the “hielera.” In English, hielera means the “freezer” or “icebox.”
One of these women, “Amelia,” is a twenty-eight year old mother of three, who, after suffering sexual violence, fled to the United States with her two sisters and five year-old niece. Shortly after arriving in the US, they were arrested by CBP officers who told them they were being taken to a “hielera.”
The hielera turned out to be a freezing cold cell where Amelia and her family were locked up along with many other immigrant women. The hielera had no beds, no chairs, and a single sink and toilet sitting in plain view in the cell. The temperature in the hielera was so cold that Amelia’s lips chapped and split, her face hurt and peeled. Her sisters’ and her niece’s lips and fingertips turned blue. They were forced to sleep on the concrete floor without even a blanket. They huddled together on the floor at night for warmth, but slept very little.
They had no access to a bath or shower. They were not provided with even the most basic personal hygiene products like toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs, or soap. Nor were they ever provided with a change of clothing. They were fed only once or twice a day, and received no more than a single sandwich. They were constantly hungry and suffered headaches as a result.
The only water available to them and the other women in the cell was provided in a single thermos shared by all the detainees. There were no cups to drink the water. The water smelled like bleach and burned Amelia’s throat when she drank it.
Amelia was incarcerated in the hielera for six days. AI Justice has spoken to women kept in the hieleras as long as two weeks. To escape the hieleras, many of these women ultimately agreed to sign documents they could neither read nor understand. The documents they signed turned out to be orders for their expedited removal from the United States.
“More than a dozen of the women subjected to these inhumane conditions are victims of domestic violence. It is unconscionable that after being abused, they have been subjected to further abuse by the United States government,” said Losmin Jimenez, litigation attorney with Americans for Immigrant Justice.
According to Jessica Shulruff, a detention attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice, “The last time I went out to the Broward Transitional Center, I met with 26 women, almost all of them had been recently transferred from the Texas border areas and had been subjected to the deplorable conditions of the hieleras. Most of the women were asylum seekers and over half of them are survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Many of them have come to the U.S. fleeing abusive partners and are seeking safety and protection. Instead, they are met with inhumane conditions and abusive treatment.”
“We call on Customs and Border Protection to immediately investigate these unlawful practices and bring a quick end to this inhumane and needlessly cruel treatment of these immigrant families,” said Joseph Anderson, Director of Litigation for Americans for Immigrant Justice.
Joseph Anderson, Esq., Director of Litigation
Losmin Jimenez, Esq., Litigation Attorney
Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) has been fighting for the American dream since its founding in 1996. One of the nation’s largest non-profit immigration law firms, AI Justice represents vulnerable immigrants at no charge. This direct service work informs its broader policy work. AI Justice influences national policy; successfully litigates or otherwise challenges patterns of abuse; and educates the public about the impact immigration laws and directives have on our communities. AI Justice is dedicated to protecting and promoting the basic human rights of immigrants. Please visit www.aijustice.org for more information.