The judge said that the CBP cannot use “over-crowding” as an excuse to make detainees sleep on the floor.
A federal judge has found that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is likely violating immigrants’ rights.
According to The Arizona Capitol Times, the decision was made by U.S. District Court Judge David Bury. In his 40-page ruling, Bury found that migrants help by Customs and Border Patrol for 48 hours or more tend to face “substantially worse” conditions than facilities which house other civil suspects, including individuals booked for violent criminal offenses.
At particular issue is the agency’s penchant for forcing migrants to sleep on floors—often without blankets–for days or weeks at a time. While Customs officials have explained the hardship as a consequence of overcrowding, Bury deemed the practice illegal and unwarranted.
“The court finds that conditions of detention in CBP holding cells, especially those that preclude sleep over several nights, are presumptively punitive and violate the Constitution,” Bury wrote.
Bury, says the Capitol Times, stipulated that exceptions for constitutional violations may be permitted in “exigent circumstances.” For instance, a detainee may have some rights curtailed if they create a disturbance—even peacefully–which interferes with their processing or court attendance.
“But this is a narrow exception and overcrowding or regular classification considerations do not constitute exigent that would justify floor-sleeping,” Bury stated. “The periodic surges occurring along the border is a chronic condition and not an exigent exception to justify unconstitutional conditions of confinement.”
The bottom line, explains the Capitol Times, is that Customs and Border Patrol cannot hold migrants for more than 48 hours without ensuring “conditions of confinement that meet basic human needs for sleeping in a bed.”
Bury has since directed CBP to provide migrants with not just blankets but filling food, potable water and medical care.
American Immigration Council attorney Mary Kenney, whose organization participated in the lawsuit, said she’d pleased with the case’s outcome.
“This is a very significant ruling for the court to be saying this is unconstitutional to keep an individual longer than that time without providing a bed, without providing adequate food and water, without providing a medical assessment or a medical professional, or that shower,” Kenney said.
The lawsuit, recounts the Capitol Times, was first filed in 2015. The initial complaint claimed that conditions in Customs and Border Protection are kept purposefully “inhumane and punitive.”
“They have been packed into overcrowded and filthy holding cells with the lights glaring day and night; stripped of outer layers of clothing and forced to suffer in brutally cold temperatures; deprived of beds, bedding and sleep; denied adequate food, water, medicine and medical care,” the lawsuit stated.
Bury built atop those clams in his finding, deeming other CBP practices to be, at the very least, problematic. He noted that the ruling is prospective and will dictate future practices.
Bury said that, regardless of the CBP’s explanation, it cannot justify housing immigrants in unsanitary, unsafe or uncomfortable conditions due to over-crowding or under-funding.