Campaign to Stop “Hielera” Abuse Makes Progress in Washington

Newsletter  |  Winter 2014
Vol. 18, Issue No. 1

AI Justice continues its campaign to advocate for humane conditions for individuals held in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody.   In particular, we focus our efforts on ending the use of hieleras where women and children describe being locked in freezing cold, bare, over-crowded concrete rooms for weeks at a time, sharing a single toilet, with no beds or bedding, no change of clothing, and no toiletries.

In addition to the Federal Tort Claims Actions that AI Justice has filed on behalf of eight of these women, we continue to seek an end to these practices through legislation.  We continue to work with Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard and her staff on the Protect Family Values at the Border Act that would require CBP to uphold very basic standards of care, such as ensuring adequate nutrition, appropriate climate, and medical care.

In December, our Director of Litigation met with Senator Barbara Boxer and her staff again in Washington, D.C. to discuss CBP’s continuing use of the hieleras.  Senator Boxer then introduced Senate Bill 1817 (The Humane Short-Term Custody Act), which would impose basic, humane standards including provision of adequate shelter, food, and medical care for the thousands of people held in CBP custody each day.

On February 20, 2014, AI Justice and the Women’s Refugee Commission held a legislative briefing in Washington, DC, for House and Senate staffers to learn more about the need for and provisions of the Humane Short Term Custody Act.  Joe Anderson, AI Justice Director of Litigation was one of two presenters at the briefing.  In addition, an AI Justice client, who was held by CBP in the hieleras for 15 days, travelled from New York and testified at the briefing.  A capacity crowd of more than 75 people from dozens of different congressional offices attended the briefing.

In March, AI Justice, in conjunction with co-cousel Ira Kurzban, will be filing a federal law suit against CBP on behalf of the client who testified at the hearing.

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AI Justice is an award-winning non-profit law and advocacy firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, we champion the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocate for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serve as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speak for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.