Photos reveal 'deplorable' conditions in immigrant detention centers

Temporary detention facility in Nogales, Arizona, in a June 2015 photo released as evidence in Doe v. Johnson © americanimmigrationcouncil.org
US Customs and Border Patrol has released security footage of detention facilities in southern Arizona, where immigrants have been held in overcrowded, dirty cells without bedding, adequate food and water, and even basic sanitation.

A federal judge in Tucson ordered the release of the photos in June, as evidence in the class-action lawsuit filed by several immigrant rights groups against the Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency. The case is known as Doe v. Johnson.

The photos were made public Thursday by the American Immigration Council, one of the plaintiffs in the case, which called the conditions at CBP temporary detention facilities “deplorable and unconstitutional.”

Video stills show that the Border Patrol has been holding immigrants, including “traumatized asylum seekers and mothers with infants and small children” for days in cold, overcrowded and dirty cells designed to hold detainees for only a few hours, the AIC said in a statement.

According to the lawsuit filed in June 2015, the detained migrants 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.”

In the year-long period between September 2014 and September 2015, more than two thirds of the 326,881 migrants held in CPB short-term detention facilities were there for longer than 24 hours, according to the report published by the AIC on Thursday.

"Looking at all sectors combined, the data reveals that a shocking 217,485 individuals (or 67 percent of the total number detained during this period) were held in CBP facilities for 24 hours or more; 93,566 (29 percent) for 48 hours or more; and 44,202 (14 percent) for 72 hours or more,” says the report, authored by the AIC Deputy Director of Research Guillermo Cantor.

Immigrants call the cells “las hieleras,” which translates from Spanish as “ice boxes,” Cantor wrote.

© americanimmigrationcouncil.org

Photos released by the organization show detainees wrapped in reflective blankets crammed into tiny cells. In one picture, a mother is changing her child’s diapers on the sheet set out on the concrete floor covered with litter. All of the faces in the photos have been redacted.

© americanimmigrationcouncil.org

Meanwhile, the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released the testimony of Eldon Vail, a former prison administrator with 35 years of experience who testified as an expert in the ongoing litigation. Vail testified that he had never been in a prison or jail that treated inmates as badly as the CBP treated the detained migrants, and that their conditions were “unnecessarily harsh, dangerous and contrary to accepted industry practices and standards.”