Americans for Immigrant Justice, Inc. v. CBP, et al. (Rio Grande Hieleras FOIA)

Americans for Immigrant Justice, Inc. v. CBP, et al.
No. 1:14-cv-20945 KMW (S.D. Fla. Filed Mar. 13, 2014)

Americans for Immigrant Justice, Inc. (AI Justice) has sued CBP and DHS under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for their failure to produce any records in response to a request which sought records pertaining to CBP’s short-term detention policies and procedures, particularly as implemented in the Rio Grande Valley (Valley) in Texas.  In 2013, AI Justice interviewed over 100 individuals who had been detained in CBP holding cells in the Valley prior to being transferred to ICE detention in Miami.  These individuals uniformly reported deplorable conditions in the holding cells. They reported that Border Patrol agents refer to the cells as “hieleras,” which is Spanish for “iceboxes.”  The agents use this term because they keep the temperatures in the cells unbearably low, so that the detainees always are extremely cold.  Additionally, the holding cells are overcrowded; have no beds, although most detainees reported being there at least several days, with some being held up to two weeks; have no bathing facilities and few toiletries; and have toilets that are out in the open.  The detainees also complained of being served inadequate food.  The AI Justice FOIA seeks records relating to these holding cells for the period 2008 through 2013.

CBP finally produced some responsive records, and the parties subsequently agreed to dismiss the case by stipulation on September 10, 2015.

Counsel: Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Jennie Santos | jsantos@aijustice.org

FTCA Administrative Complaints Against the United States

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 | jsantos@aijustice.org

Press:

 

Alba Quinonez Flores v. United States of America, No. 1:14-cv-03166 (E.D.N.Y. Filed May 20, 2014)

Filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act, this suit seeks damages for the physical and psychological injury Ms. Quinonez Flores suffered at the hands of CBP while she was detained in holding cells, known as hieleras (iceboxes), in CBP’s Rio Grande Valley Sector. The complaint alleges that CBP negligently placed Ms. Quinonez Flores in detention conditions that they knew or should have known posed a substantial risk of harm, failed to oversee the agents who managed the day-to-day operations of the detention facilities, and that their acts and omissions constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Counsel: Law Office of David K.S. Kim, PC | Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger | Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Ira Kurzban | Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger | 305-444-0060 | ira@kkwtlaw.com

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against the United States Denouncing Hieleras

FTCA Administrative Complaint Against the United States Denouncing Hieleras (filed Mar. 12, 2013)

Jose Alberto* was apprehended at the United States Texas border by Customs and Border Protection and was told by an agent that he was being taken to a “hielera” (“freezer” or “icebox”). Mr. Alberto was placed in a small, freezing cold holding cell with approximately thirty men. The temperature was so cold that Mr. Alberto’s lips split and his face became red and felt sunburned. The cell had no beds or chairs, and had a single toilet, a sink, and two urinals out in the open. The cold made it difficult to sleep, and the size of the cell made it impossible for all of the men in the cell to lie down at the same time. The only water provided to the men was in a single thermos, shared by all. The water smelled like bleach and burned Mr. Alberto’s throat when he drank it. Mr. Alberto was held in one “hielera” for one day and night, and was transferred to a second similar “hielera” at another location, where he spent another day before he was ultimately transported to Broward Transitional Center in Florida.

While in the holding cells, Mr. Alberto was called out to speak with an officer. After answering some questions about his family, Mr. Alberto was told he had to sign documents printed in English, which Mr. Alberto does not speak or read. He repeatedly refused to sign the documents and asked what the documents said. The CBP agent ultimately told Mr. Alberto they were for his “deportation.” Mr. Alberto refused to sign the documents, saying he was afraid to go back to his country because he would be killed by a gang. The CBP agent told Mr. Alberto that he would send him to federal prison if he did not sign. Mr. Alberto became upset and began crying, and the CBP agent laughed and mocked him. After he continued to refuse to sign the documents, Mr. Alberto was taken back to the holding cell and again threatened with being sent to federal prison.

After arriving at the Broward Transitional Center, Mr. Alberto filed an FTCA administrative complaint. 

The government failed to respond to the administrative complaint within the six-month deadline. Mr. Alberto decided not to file a federal complaint.

*Not his actual name.

Counsel: Americans for Immigrant Justice

Contact: Jennie Santos |  jsantos@aijustice.org