A coalition of civil and immigrant rights organizations are confronting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) over a spate of alleged abuses.
Ten damage cases, most of which were filed on Tuesday, claim that federal immigration officials violated the rights of those in their custody.
In several cases, detainees allege that CBP agents in South Texas kept them for days in crowded, freezing cells that agents called the "hielera," Spanish for "icebox." In another case, a 63-year-old woman claims she was forced to urinate on herself while being held in CBP custody. The woman later became ill at the jail, and found out at the hospital that she had experienced an acute stroke, according to a summary of the complaint.
Jenny Burke, a spokesperson for CBP, said that the agency won't comment on pending litigation, but issued a related statement.
"We do not tolerate misconduct or abuse within our ranks and we fully cooperate with all investigations of alleged unlawful conduct, on or off duty, by any of our CBP employees and contractors," Burke said.
Among the groups spearheading the effort are the American Immigration Council and the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Here's a look at three of the cases:
Three Women Detained
After being apprehended near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas in January and February, three women say they were taken to a freezing holding cell, which CBP agents called the "hielera," or "icebox." The women claim that dozens of detainees were crowded together with no beds or chairs, and with a single toilet and sink.
The women say that they were not given blankets or pillows, and that the cell was so cold that their fingers and lips turned blue. Pregnant women and children were also placed in the cell, according to a summary of the complaint.
The women allege that they were kept in the cold cell for as many as six days, and that they were under duress when they signed what they now know to be orders of expedited removal from the U.S. They say that they could not read the document, which was printed in English.
In March 2011, a 63-year-old woman who lived in New York was returning home after a relative's funeral in Minnesota when a CBP agent boarded her bus in Toledo, Ohio, according to a summary of the complaint. The agent allegedly took Elizabeth Takem-aishetu into custody and left her in a CBP vehicle where she was forced to wait for eight hours without food and water.
Takem-aishetu says she was brought to a processing center, and, that night, was repeatedly denied access to a bathroom. She claims she eventually urinated on herself and was forced to stay in urine-soaked jeans until morning.
After being transferred to immigration detention at a local jail, the woman says she fell ill, "suffering from intense stress and fear," according to a summary of the complaint, and doctors later determined she had suffered an acute stroke.
The woman alleges that she never had health problems prior to the detention, but now has pain, numbness and partial paralysis on the left side of her body.
In March 2011, 4-year-old Emily Ruiz was detained by Customs and Border Protection at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. Ruiz was en route to New York after a vacation in Guatemala with her grandfather, when her grandfather was detained because of problems with his immigration paperwork and placed in deportation proceedings. Ruiz, however, was a U.S. citizen.
When CBP contacted Ruiz's parents in New York, an official allegedly told her father that they could not return her to "illegals." According to a summary of the complaint, "the CBP agent gave [Ruiz's] father an hour to decide whether she should be sent back to Guatemala or to an 'adoption center' in Virginia." Her father chose to send her back to Guatemala.
Ruiz was brought back to the U.S. three weeks later, when an attorney who took the case pro bono traveled to Guatemala to represent her. Upon returning to the U.S., she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder by a child psychologist, according to the complaint.
Upon returning to the U.S., Ruiz was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder by a child psychologist, according to the complaint.
“Taken as a whole, the data indicate the need for a stronger system of incentives (both positive and negative) for Border Patrol agents to abide by the law, respect legal rights, and refrain from abusive conduct,” the report reads.