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Being Forced To Sleep In Toilet Area Due To Overcrowding Violates Constitution, Says US Judge

A US judge in Arizona declares that conditions in the US Customs holding facilities in the agency’s Tucson sector violates the Constitution.

US District Judge David C. Bury’s order prohibit the agency from holding migrants for more than forty-eight (48) hours in the Tucson area after they have been processed “unless and until CBP can offer conditions of confinement that meet detainees’ basic human need for sleeping in a bed with blankets, a shower, food that meets acceptable dietary standards, potable clean water, and medical assessment carried out by a medical professional.”

The lawsuit over conditions in the Tucson area was first filed in 2015. Bury’s decision comes after a January trial in which lawyers representing immigrants presented images that they said disclose dangerous overcrowding in CBP facilities.

In his ruling, Bury named those conditions as he banned the use of bathrooms for sleeping, describing it as “unsanitary and degrading.”

“Being forced to sleep in a toilet or bathroom area due to overcrowding offends the notions of common decency; it is degrading and unhygenic for all detainees who either have to sleep in the toilet area or try to use the bathrooms when others are sleeping there,” he wrote.

“The Court discovers that the conditions of detention in CBP holding cells, especially those that disallow sleep over several nights, are presumptively punitive and violate the United States Constitution,” Bury wrote.

According to the agency’s policies, detainees typically should not be held for longer for Seventy-two (72) hours in CBP hold rooms or holding facilities.

“In 2019, the average period spent in CBP custody in the Tucson area was 53.92 hours, with 34% of 63,490 detainees being held longer than forty-eight (48) hours, 9,798 were held up to Seventy-two (72) hours and 12,030 individuals were held longer than Seventy-two (72) hours,” Bury said in his ruling, indicating that officials were “administering a detention system that deprives detainees, who are held in custody, Tucson Sector, longer than forty-eight (48) hours, of conditions of confinement that meet basic human needs.”

Asked for comment, Custom agency responded that the agency is assessing the judge’s ruling and it defers to the Department of Justice for matters in the constitution.

“As an agency, we meet diverse people from all over the world, and we are committed to their health, safety, and humane care of all individuals in our custody,” CBP said in a written statement.

Advocates praised the judge’s ruling.

“We’re happy that a court has finally recognized and made CBP change the way and manner that it’s going to do its work and is wanting them to at least provide some basic human decency in the way that it treats people,” said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center indicated.

The judge’s injunction directly applies to facilities in CBP’s Tucson area. But attorneys involved in the case told reporters Wednesday that it could have wider and more encompassing implications beyond the region.

“This is an incredibly major case not only for the thousands of immigrants who go through CBP processing every day — we are going to see to it that their treatment improve dramatically,” Huerta said. “But I think it’s incredibly neccessary because this sets constitutional minimums for the way people in detention should be treated, so we believe and expect that this is going to have ramifications beyond the Tucson area.”

However, attorney Colette Reiner Mayer, who served as trial counsel in the case, said that other courts would not be bound by the judge’s ruling.