New York, NY – May 21, 2014 – Americans for Immigrants Justice (AI Justice) and Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt, P.A., filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court against Customs & Border Protection (CBP) for its abuse and unlawful treatment of Alba, a twenty-eight year old immigrant woman who fled to the U.S. seeking asylum. Instead of accepting her as an asylum seeker, CBP held her in the most barbaric and inhumane conditions in CBP detention cells along the U.S./Mexico border in CBP’s Rio Grande Valley sector. Flores v. U.S.
The CBP facilities, where detainees are supposed to be held no more than 12-24 hours, are commonly known as “hieleras,” the Spanish word for “freezers.” CBP agents and detainees alike call them hieleras because of the frigid temperatures at which the holding facilities are maintained. In addition to being held in frigid temperatures, detainees in the hieleras are routinely denied adequate meals, access to clean drinking water, and to basic hygiene products such as soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and sanitary napkins. The hieleras are often so crowded that the detainees have no space to lie down when kept overnight. Detainees are denied mattresses and bedding, and are left to sleep on the cold concrete floor with bright overhead lights left on throughout the night. Moreover, detainees with serious medical conditions are denied adequate treatment, and those with chronic conditions are denied access to medically-necessary prescription medications they carry with them at the time of their apprehension.
Though the hieleras are designated for short term custody, CBP routinely detains individuals for days and sometimes weeks in substandard conditions. “We have interviewed more than a hundred immigrants like Alba who were held by our own government in the most inhumane conditions here in the US. CBP agents detain adults and children in government-operated detention facilities under conditions that most Americans would believe only exist in third-world countries,” said Joseph Anderson, Director of Litigation for AI Justice. “Alba, who is a diabetic, was kept in these detention facilities for more than a week. Her insulin was confiscated from her, she endured frigid temperatures, was not allowed to bathe or change her clothing despite the fact that she was menstruating. She was forced to try to sleep on a freezing cold concrete floor while the lights remained on at all times. She had to share a toilet that sat in the open in the cell with more than twenty women,” added Anderson.
“Like Alba, many other men, women and children held by CBP in these abusive conditions are bona fide asylum seekers who have every right to come to the US seeking our protection. They include women fleeing violence and children whose families and lives have been threatened by gang violence,” said Cheryl Little, Executive Director of AI Justice. “It is shameful that people who have already experienced tragic and devastating losses and come here seeking our protection are instead subject to further trauma at the hands of our own government,” said Ira Kurzban, who is one of the attorneys representing Alba. “We are seeking justice done for Alba and the thousands of others being mistreated by our government,” said Kurzban.