It's difficult to grasp what it's like to live in a detention center, even though we hear about the thousands of immigrant families that are held for months — and even years — at detention facilities throughout the United States.
"Short-term" detention centers, also known as "hieleras" or iceboxes, are inhabitable, but somehow, thousands of immigrants are stuffed in them. The New York Times recently uncovered a measles outbreak within the staff at a detention center in Arizona. We've also seen how terrible these facilities can be for the trans community. There is also a lack of medical care.
We've heard the stories, but have never had a firsthand glance at what the conditions are like — until now. Thanks to a class action lawsuit, we can finally see the kind of environment America provides immigrants.
The photos are chilling.
Last June, two detainees filed a class action lawsuit against the Arizona Border Patrol Detention Facilities, the United States Border Patrol, and the Department of Homeland Security, for mistreatment, abuse, and neglect.
Court documents show two detainees housed in the Tucson Border Patrol Station as well as a Tucson man detained multiple times in that facility filed the lawsuit.There are now more than 75 former detainees who are also part of the lawsuit.
They claim the border patrol limited and/or denied them access to beds, soap, showers, adequate meals and water, and medical care. They also claim they were denied legal counsel, which is a violation of the Constitution and the border patrol's own policies.
The detained immigrants aren't asking for money or to even be released. Instead, they seek an injunction to stop the border patrol’s "unconstitutional detention practices while the case is being litigated" and offer livable conditions such as beds, sanitary napkins, and soap.
There's no way the public could understand the dire conditions of these centers without seeing them, according to The Arizona Republic.
Getting the photos out to the public wasn't an easy task though. The border patrol fought to conceal the photos because they would "violate privacy rights of immigrants and jeopardize security at Border Patrol stations," according to The Arizona Republic.
The Arizona newspaper, along with the detainees' attorneys, fought to have the stills released to back up the testimonies of key witnesses.
Eventually, the District Court accepted the position of the plaintiffs and The Arizona Republic, and unsealed the documents and video stills. Now, the border patrol agency will have to explain and demonstrate why these conditions were proper and necessary.
"Migrants detained in the Tucson sector have long suffered horrific conditions," Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona said in a press release.
"Mothers should not be forced to change their babies’ diapers on cold concrete floors or warm them with flimsy aluminum sheets. Border Patrol's treatment of men, women and children in its custody is simply inexcusable," Mary Kenney, senior staff attorney for the American Immigration Council, said in a press release. "We are seeking immediate relief from the deplorable detention conditions in CBP holding facilities for the thousands of individuals who are or will be held there while this case progresses."
Ironically, the Arizona border patrol asks for community feedback to improve their quality of service.
"We strive to provide quality service to our customers," their website states. "If we have not lived up to this commitment, we would like to know. If you feel you were mistreated by a Border Patrol employee or wish to make a complaint of misconduct by a Border Patrol employee, you may write to the chief patrol agent."
Well, the border patrol agency is doing a stellar job, if that means not having enough mats for children to sleep on or using aluminum blankets to keep detainees warm.