May 29, 2013 — Washington, D.C. – Today, Americans for Immigrants Justice filed Federal Tort Claims (FTCA) actions on behalf of four immigrant women who were subjected to inhumane and unlawful treatment by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). We are seeking damages for cruel and inhumane treatment suffered by our clients. These actions follow previous FTCA claims filed by AI Justice in March on behalf of four other immigrant individuals who were held and abused in the hieleras. The government has yet to acknowledge these claims.
In early 2013, several individuals ranging in age from 20 to 36 years of age were apprehended in Texas by CBP Officers. After being apprehended, they were taken to what the CBP officers called the “hielera.” In English, hielera means the “freezer” or “icebox.” The heilera was a freezing cold cell where the women were locked with many other immigrant women and children in deplorable conditions.
“We have now spoken with more than 25 women who described being subjected to the same inhumane and abusive treatment in the hieleras. At this point there can be no mistake that this treatment is calculated and systematically carried out by CBP,” said Joseph Anderson, Director of Litigation for AI Justice. “This is not the lone act of one or two bad officers. We have an entire sector of CBP engaged in the unlawful abuse of these young women.”
The hielera had no beds, no chairs and a single sink and toilet in plain view in the cell. The temperature there was so cold that the women’s lips chapped and split, their fingers and toes turned blue and they shook uncontrollably from the cold. Along with the other detainees, they were forced to sleep on the concrete floor without even a blanket. Bright overhead lights were left on 24-hours a day, making sleep virtually impossible.
The women had no access to a bath or shower. They were not provided with even the most basic personal hygiene products like a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb or soap. Nor were they provided with a change of clothing. Two of the women were menstruating while in the hieleras but were not adequately provided with sanitary napkins; because they could not clean themselves or change their clothes, they were humiliated because they smelt badly. They were fed only once or twice a day, and received no more than a single sandwich. As a result, they were constantly hungry and suffered headaches and dizziness.
The only water available to them and the other women in the cell was provided in a single thermos shared by all the detainees. There were no cups to drink the water. The water smelled like bleach and burned the throats of some of the women when they drank it.
“I regularly have visited the Broward Transitional Center where I have talked with dozens of women, all recently transferred from the Texas border areas, who have been subjected to the deplorable conditions of the hieleras,” said Losmin Jimenez, AI Justice Litigation Attorney. “Most women were asylum seekers, and many of them are survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Many have come to the U.S. fleeing abusive partners and are seeking safety and protection. Instead, they are met with inhumane conditions and abusive treatment.”
Two of the women are diabetics whose medication was confiscated at the time they were apprehended and never returned. Both suffered medical problems after being deprived of their prescriptions. One of them passed out twice and finally was taken to the local hospital’s emergency room.
The women were kept in the hieleras for as long as 13 days. To escape the hieleras, many of these women ultimately agreed to sign documents they could neither read nor understand. The documents they signed turned out to be orders for their expedited removal from the United States. Cheryl Little, AI Justice’s Executive Director noted:
“CBP has long been considered a rogue agency that sees itself as above the law. We again call on CBP to end these unlawful practices and prohibit the inhumane and needlessly cruel treatment of immigrant families.”
Joseph Anderson, Esq., Director of Litigation
Losmin Jimenez, Esq., Litigation Attorney
Cheryl Little, Esq., Executive Director