Court Orders Release of Graphic Photos of Arizona Border Patrol Detention Facilities and Damning Expert Witness Testimony

Court Orders Release of Graphic Photos of Arizona Border Patrol Detention Facilities and Damning Expert Witness Testimony

Order follows attempts by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to keep evidence of unconstitutional detention conditions from the public

August 18, 2016

Washington D.C. - Today, groups made public damning evidence, including expert testimony and video stills illustrating the deplorable and unconstitutional conditions detained individuals are subjected to in Border Patrol custody in the agency’s Tucson Sector. The court rejected Border Patrol’s effort to conceal evidence of inhumane and abusive detention practices from the public.  Accepting the position of the Plaintiffs and the Arizona Republic, which intervened to argue for the release of the materials, the court recognized that access to court proceedings and to basic information about governmental practices are fundamental First Amendment rights.

The video stills and expert testimony released today reveal that Border Patrol holds individuals—among them traumatized asylum seekers and mothers with infants and small children—for days at a time in cold, overcrowded, and dirty cells that are designed to detain people for only a few hours. Graphic photographs show detainees packed head-to-foot in filthy, overcrowded rooms. One image captures a mother changing an infant’s diaper on a trash-strewn concrete floor.  

Also among the unsealed documents is testimony from an expert for the Plaintiffs who wrote that, in his 35 years of experience working in correctional facilities, he had “never been in one that treats those confined in a manner that the CBP treats detainees.” 

Among other conclusions about the poor treatment of individuals detained in Border Patrol facilities, he said that “[t]he absence of medical screening upon arrival is unthinkable,” and that he had never before witnessed an attempt to “cram” so many people into so little space, without beds and bedding. He concluded, “[t]he CBP [is] housing people in conditions that are unnecessarily harsh, dangerous and contrary to accepted industry practices and standards.”

“Every step the Government has taken in response to this lawsuit has been designed to delay this suit and hide the conditions present at these facilities,” said Louise Stoupe of Morrison & Foerster. “The Government should be using the resources they are wasting in court to provide basic human necessities to those in its custody.”

“Migrants detained in the Tucson sector have long suffered horrific conditions,” said Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the ACLU of Arizona. “It is unconscionable that the federal government continues to detain people including infants in this manner. The Border Patrol continues to operate in violation of U.S. and international law as well as its own standards without being held accountable for these egregious abuses.”

“These photos show the harm people suffer in these facilities, from having to sleep on the floor for days to needing to huddle together just to stay warm,” said Travis Silva, attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “These conditions should not exist in a facility operated by the United States government.”

“The images unsealed by the court leave no room to debate the fact that thousands of immigrants are subjected to inhumane and unconstitutional conditions by the Border Patrol," said Nora Preciado, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. “We urgently need meaningful and lasting reforms that put an end to these abuses, hold the agency accountable, and ensure that people are treated with dignity.”

“Mothers should not be forced to change their babies’ diapers on cold concrete floors or warm them with flimsy aluminum sheets. Border Patrol’s treatment of men, women and children in its custody is simply inexcusable,” said Mary Kenney, senior staff attorney for the American Immigration Council. “We are seeking immediate relief from the deplorable detention conditions in CBP holding facilities for the thousands of individuals who are or will be held there while this case progresses.”

In December, attorneys representing the Plaintiff class of detained immigrants sought a preliminary injunction to stop Border Patrol’s unconstitutional detention practices while the case is being litigated. The injunction is based on compelling evidence of inhumane conditions in Tucson facilities—much of which was disclosed after the Court sanctioned Border Patrol for destroying video recordings from these facilities and failing to turn over other relevant documentation.

Jane Doe, et al. v. Johnson, et al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Attorneys on the case include Harold J. McElhinny, Colette Reiner Mayer, Louise C. Stoupe, Kevin M. Coles, Pieter S. de Ganon, and Elizabeth Balassone of Morrison & Foerster LLP; Nora Preciado, Linton Joaquin, and Karen C. Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center; Mary Kenney, and Melissa Crow of the American Immigration Council; Travis Silva of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area; and Kathy Brody, Brenda Muñoz Furnish, and Dan Pochoda of ACLU of Arizona.

For additional links see:

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For press inquiries, contact:

Wendy Feliz, American Immigration Council, 202-507-7524, [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, 213-375-3149, [email protected]
Steve Kilar, ACLU of Arizona, 602-773-6007, [email protected]
Travis Silva, LCCR, 415-543-9444x207, [email protected]
Hayley Home, Morrison & Foerster LLP, 415-268-6021, [email protected]

Media Contact

Wendy Feliz, Communications Director 
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Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 
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