Challenging Unconstitutional Conditions in CBP Detention Facilities

Challenging Unconstitutional Conditions in CBP Detention Facilities

Doe v. Johnson, No. 15-00250 (D. Ariz. filed June 8, 2015)


The American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Arizona, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Morrison & Foerster LLP have filed a class-action lawsuit challenging detention conditions in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facilities. The complaint alleges that Tucson Sector Border Patrol holds men, women, and children in freezing, overcrowded, and filthy cells for days at a time in violation of the U.S. Constitution and CBP’s own policies. Detained individuals are stripped of outer layers of clothing and forced to suffer in brutally cold temperatures; deprived of beds, bedding, and sleep; denied adequate food, water, medicine and medical care, and basic sanitation and hygiene items such as soap, sufficient toilet paper, sanitary napkins, diapers, and showers; and held virtually incommunicado in these conditions for days.

Plaintiffs in the suit are two women detained in the Tucson Border Patrol Station as well as a Tucson man detained twice in that facility. All Plaintiffs consistently recount days of mistreatment and neglect during their time in Border Patrol holding cells; their accounts are fully consistent with those of the many former detainees who signed declarations describing their confinement in holding cells within the Tucson Sector. Plaintiffs allege that conditions in all of the Tucson Sector Border Patrol facilities violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act, and seek to compel the Tucson Sector of the Border Patrol to bring its detention facilities in line with Constitutional standards, including limiting the time a person may be detained in holding cells to a few hours; providing adequate food, water, medical care, beds and bedding, access to showers and hygiene supplies; and maintaining appropriate capacity limits and temperature controls, among other reforms.

After filing the lawsuit and the motion for class certification, Plaintiffs filed and won a motion for expedited discovery. As a result, Plaintiffs’ experts were permitted to visit specific Tucson Border Patrol Stations and gather evidence, and Defendants were required to produce certain information about their detention practices. When Defendants destroyed some video recordings in violation of the court’s order, the court issued sanctions against Defendants, requiring them to immediately produce video recordings and other data to Plaintiffs. On December 7, 2015, based on analysis of large amounts of evidence produced through the expedited discovery process, Plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt Defendants’ unlawful detention practices while the lawsuit continues.

Subsequently, the District Court certified a class consisting of all individuals who are or in the future will be detained in a Border Patrol facility in the Tucson Sector. The Court also ordered that photographs and other evidence of the conditions, which Plaintiffs had submitted to the Court under seal, could be released to the public. This evidence includes photographs that depict individuals crowded into cells, huddled together to try and stay warm, lying on concrete benches and the concrete floor without any mats.

On November 18, 2016, the Court partially granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, finding that detention conditions in Border Patrol facilities in the Tucson Sector violated the constitutional rights of individuals detained there.  Among other things, the Court held that all detainees who are held over 12 hours must be given a mat and mylar sheet for sleeping and the opportunity to wash or clean themselves. While the relief ordered by the Court alleviates some of the unconstitutional conditions suffered by class members, Plaintiffs do not believe that it is sufficient under the law. 

For that reason, Plaintiffs filed an appeal of the decision granting the preliminary injunction and, on March 31, 2017, filed their brief in support of the appeal arguing that, under the Constitution, Plaintiffs are entitled to beds, trained medical personnel to conduct medical screening, and showers. On October 16, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on Plaintiffs’ appeal, as well as an appeal from Defendants. On December 22, 2017 the Ninth Circuit upheld the District Court’s preliminary injunction in full.”

Follow this case:

November 29, 2016

A federal judge ordered the Border Patrol to immediately cease its practice of refusing to provide basic amenities to people detained in Border Patrol holding cells in Tucson, Arizona. The judge...

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