United States v. Hernandez-Becerra - Ninth Circuit


April 19, 2019

The American Immigration Council and the National Immigration Law Center, with other immigrant rights and civil rights organizations, filed an amicus brief in United States v. Hernandez-Becerra. In this case, the Federal Defenders of San Diego argue that the court should have conducted a deeper inquiry into the voluntariness of a guilty plea offered by 18-year-old Claudia Hernandez-Becerra because she spent three days detained in an “hielera” before her arraignment for entering the United States without permission.

“Hieleras”–the Spanish word for “iceboxes” or “freezers”–are U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities known for their freezing temperatures, insufficient and inadequate food and water, lack of basic sanitation, and conditions that result in an inability to sleep, because of the overcrowding, the lack of adequate bedding, the cold, and that the lights are kept on all night. 

The amicus brief outlines federal court filings, reporting by third parties, and personal accounts of those detained to reveal the consistent inadequacy of the conditions in Border Patrol facilities, regardless of the location of the facility or when an individual was detained.  Based on such evidence, the brief argues that the inhumane and substandard conditions in Border Patrol facilities are coercive and impact the voluntariness of a guilty plea submitted by an individual held in such conditions before being brought before a judge.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, Detention Watch Network, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the National Immigrant Justice Center are signatories to the brief.

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