FTCA Administrative Complaints Against the United States (filed Mar. 12, 2013)
On various dates in early 2013, four women were apprehended at the United States Texas border by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. After being apprehended, they were taken by CBP to what the agents called a “hielera,” which is Spanish for “icebox” or “icemaker.” The hieleras are holding cells which agents often maintain at very low temperature. The women all describe cells in which dozens of detainees were crowded together. The cells had no beds, no chairs and each had only a single toilet and sink sitting in the open in the corner. The women were kept in the cells for as long as 13 days.
The cells were so cold that the women’s fingers and lips turned blue. They often were fed only one meal a day consisting of a single sandwich, which frequently was frozen. They received nothing to drink other than water, which they had to retrieve from the sink, using their hands or a single cup shared by everyone in the cell. They were not given blankets or pillows. Sleeping on the freezing cold floor was next to impossible. Pregnant women and women with children were present in the cells.
Two of the women are diabetics whose prescriptions were confiscated at the time they were apprehended and never returned. Both suffered medical problems after their medication was taken from them. One of them passed out twice and finally was taken to the local hospital’s emergency room.
None of the women were afforded access to a shower or a bath. Two of them had their menstrual cycles while detained but had no access to a bathroom for bathing. There was no soap, no change of underwear, and no toothbrushes or toothpaste.
CBP agents regularly asked each of the women to sign documents printed in English, which the women could not read and did not understand. Agents threatened that they would be kept in the holding cell until they signed these documents. These agents also referred to them in demeaning ways, including calling them “bitches.” Only one of the women was asked whether she had a fear of returning to her country of origin, as required, though several of them do. Eventually, most of the women signed the documents in order to end their suffering in the cold holding cells. Though they did not understand it at the time, they had signed expedited removal orders. Each of the women was subsequently transferred to a Texas jail and then to a detention facility in Florida while awaiting removal. All the women filed administrative complaints for damages against the United States for the suffering they endured at the hands of CBP agents. One of these women, Alba Quinonez Florez, subsequently sued the U.S. government in federal court based on the abuses described above.
The government failed to respond to the administrative complaint within the six-month deadline. None of the claimants decided to file a federal complaint.
Counsel: Americans for Immigrant Justice
Contact: Jennie Santos | AI Justice | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lawsuits Allege Abuse by Border Patrol Agents (Mar. 13, 2013)
- News Release: Border Patrol Continues to Abuse Immigrant Women (May 29, 2013)
- Abuse at the Border? Immigrants and Legal Groups Allege Harsh Treatment (Jul. 31, 2013)
- The “Hieleras”: a Report on Human and Civil Rights Abuses by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Aug. 7, 2013)
- Cold Storage: Migrants Refer to Border Cells as “Freezers”, Fronteras Desk (Nov. 18, 2013)
- LA Times Documents Abuse of Detainees in “Hieleras” (Dec. 5, 2013)