Federal Court Finds Conditions in Customs and Border Protection Detention Facilities Unconstitutional

TUCSON, AZ — A federal court today ordered U.S. Customs and Border Protection to overhaul the way the agency detains people in its custody in the Tucson Sector. The court found that the conditions in CBP holding cells, especially those that preclude sleep over several nights, are presumptively punitive and violate the U.S. Constitution.

The court’s order enjoins CBP from holding detainees longer than 48 hours “unless and until CBP can provide conditions of confinement that meet detainees’ basic human needs for sleeping in a bed with a blanket, a shower, food that meets acceptable dietary standards, potable water, and medical assessment performed by a medical professional.”

The lawsuit, Doe v. Wolf, was filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the American Immigration Council, ACLU of Arizona, the National Immigration Law Center, and Morrison & Foerster LLP.

The following comments are from:

Individual formerly detained by CBP in the Tucson Sector, identified as Witness B during trial in this litigation:

“I feel very happy to know that things are going to change in these detention centers and that people will not have to spend much time under the conditions I was detained in. It is really a joy to know that the necessary medical care will be available, that there will be other food available, and that those who have to be detained for longer periods of time will be held in a place where conditions are adequate. I am very happy to know that I helped make things better for all of the people who follow; so many people will benefit from being treated better during the time they have to be detained there.”

Bree Bernwanger, senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area:

“In today’s decision, a federal court has powerfully validated what our brave clients have been stepping forward to tell us for years: that conditions in the Tucson Sector punish them and deprive them of their dignity. We are thrilled that Border Patrol is, for the first time, being held accountable to the Constitution and can no longer prioritize detention over safety and human dignity.”

Mary Kenney, directing attorney of litigation with the American Immigration Council:

“Through this lawsuit, we have been able to shed light on the realities of the inhumane treatment of migrants in CBP detention facilities. In its decision, the court recognized that conditions in CBP’s Tucson Sector are ‘substantially worse’ than those afforded criminal detainees in jail facilities. Today’s monumental victory ensures that CBP cannot hold migrants in the Tucson Sector over 48 hours without providing conditions that meet basic human needs and serves as an example of the standards that should apply in all CBP facilities.”

Alvaro M. Huerta, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center:

“Today’s decision is a tremendous victory for communities everywhere fighting courageously to uphold human dignity and the rights enshrined in our Constitution. The court recognizes the grave injustices suffered by our brave plaintiffs and tens of thousands of others similarly detained by the Border Patrol in deplorable, dangerous conditions in the Tucson Sector. We are enthused that our justice system has intervened in a meaningful way to institute much needed change and hold CBP accountable.”

Colette Reiner Mayer, trial counsel from Morrison & Foerster LLP:

“This is an excellent outcome and we look forward to its implementation. With the court’s order we have secured a permanent solution and hopefully the sickening conditions in these facilities will improve. After years of collecting evidence and preparing and trying this case, the border detention facilities will no longer be allowed to violate the Constitution. Civil detainees in Border Patrol stations have suffered for too long, and this decision will pave the way for systemic change across the country.”

Alessandra Navidad, executive director for the ACLU of Arizona:

“Today’s order affirms what our clients and migrants subjected to CBP detention have been saying for years – conditions in these facilities are degrading and violate the U.S. Constitution. Witness testimony and videos shown at trial revealed overcrowding so severe that some migrants were forced to sleep next to toilets. The court found that these conditions violate standards of basic decency and puts migrants at risk of serious harm. We will continue to ensure that this agency is held accountable for civil rights abuses against migrants in their custody.”

Read the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law and judgment.

Attorneys involved in the case and individuals formerly detained by CBP in the Tucson Sector held a telephonic press briefing following the court order, where they spoke about the court’s ruling and the implications of this decision. A recording of the briefing is available HERE.