John Doe and Jane Roe v. United States, 3:16-cv-856 (Mid. Dis. Nash. Filed May 12, 2016)
Claimants—a husband and wife—fled to the United States from their native Honduras in 2013 in an attempt to escape severe violence. In the six months preceding their trek north, Claimant Wife’s family had been targeted by a criminal organization, which murdered her brother outside the family business, beat her mother into a coma, and raped her 12-year-old cousin. Fearing for their safety, Claimant Wife (then nearly eight months pregnant) and Claimant Husband fled for the United States, taking their two-year-old son with them. After crossing the border, the family turned themselves in to CBP officers at the Weslaco Station in the Rio Grande Valley Sector and requested asylum. In July 2015, they filed an administrative complaint against the United States for the serious mistreatment they suffered while in CBP custody. They raise claims of negligence, gross negligence, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The family was taken to a detention center referred to as a “hielera” (“freezer” or “icebox”), where they were stripped of extra layers of clothing and their baby supplies (including diapers) were confiscated. The cell was so cold that Claimant Wife’s fingers turned color and her teeth chattered. Claimant Wife and the couple’s toddler were placed in a female-only cell with about 65 other people, including about 40 children ranging in age from newborn to 18. They were fed cold burritos and bologna sandwiches, but the youngest children could not eat them as they could not yet eat adult food. Claimants’ toddler son developed severe diarrhea but Claimant Wife was not provided with adequate supplies to clean him, such that the diarrhea leaked through the boy’s diapers.
CBP failed to provide Claimant Wife, her son, and the rest of the women and children in their cell with a bed, warm clothes, blankets, adequate edible food and potable water, and enough toilet paper or other cleaning supplies. The lights were on the entire time the family was in detention. Those who requested even the slightest accommodation were ridiculed, mocked, and even yelled at by CBP officers. As a result of these conditions, Claimant Wife and her child were unable to sleep more than a few minutes at a time. Children cried incessantly about the cold and lack of food and water.
Experiencing severe stomach pain and concerned about having to give birth in those filthy conditions, Claimant Wife begged for medical treatment. She was eventually taken to a nearby hospital, where the medical staff determined that she was in the process of dilation and informed CBP in writing that Claimant Wife was not medically able to travel. The staff also instructed Claimant Wife and (upon information and belief) CBP staff that she should be released from detention so as to prevent preterm labor and minimize the risk of medical harm to her and the baby, but CBP returned Claimant Wife to detention instead.
Over the next day, the family attempted to obtain information about their release and were only released after successfully convincing a CBP officer to check the doctor’s release order. Previously, CBP officers had told Claimant that she should not have her baby in detention, threatening her with prolonged detention and her husband’s deportation back to Honduras if she did so. When Claimants asked for medical treatment for their young son, who was visibly ill and dehydrated form diarrhea, they were told that if the officers took him to get medical attention, it would take longer for the family to be released. The officers also made clear to the family that they did not qualify and could not apply for asylum.
After nearly 72 hours in the freezing hielera without access to adequate food, water, hygiene, necessities, blankets, bedding, warmth, sleep, and medical care, CBP released the family by leaving them at a bus station in the middle of the night.
Claimants filed an administrative FTCA complaint on July 18, 2015, and suit in federal district court in May 2016. On August 19, 2016, the government filed a motion to dismiss the case. As of April 2017, the motion to dismiss is still pending.
Counsel: R. Andrew Free | Barrett, Johnston, Martin & Garrison, LLC
Contact: R. Andrew Free | (615) 244-2202 | Andrew@ImmigrantCivilRights.com