The U.S. can’t keep detained immigrants for more than 48 hours in overcrowded and unsanitary holding cells at Customs and Border Patrol stations, a federal judge in Arizona ruled.
U.S. District Judge David Bury on Wednesday ordered the Border Patrol in the Tuscon sector to turn over processed detainees to other agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, within 48 hours after they are booked.
The judge allowed for a third night of detention only if the conditions meet the detainees’ “basic human needs,” including a bed with blankets, a shower and food that meets acceptable dietary standards. The judge spelled out the definition of a shower, noting it doesn’t mean a “paper-shower” or a “shower-wipe.”
The injunction issued by the judge applies only in the Tuscon sector, but the reasoning behind it applies equally to all short-term immigration detention facilities, Colette Mayer, a lawyer for the detainees, said in a statement.
“The order is significant because it is the most thorough analysis of the minimum conditions necessary to meet the Constitution in Border Patrol detention facilities,” Mayer said. “We are hopeful this will have an impact system-wide.”
A CBP spokesperson said the agency was reviewing the ruling and deferred to the Justice Department for matters pending in litigation. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.
The immigrants apprehended at the border are “civil detainees and not prisoners,” the judge said. The law “protects a non-convicted detainee from punishment prior to an adjudication of guilt.”
He slammed the conditions in the cells, including having detainees sleep near toilets.
“Being forced to sleep in a toilet area due to overcrowding offends the notions of common decency; it is unsanitary and degrading,” Bury wrote. He barred the CBP from overcrowding holding cells to the extent that detainees would sleep in the toilet area.
The lawsuit dates back to 2015 when a group of detainees sued over the conditions they were kept in at border stations in the Tucson area. The judge’s ruling follows a seven-day trial without a jury last month.
Last year, more than 34% of 63,490 detainees in the Tucson sector were held at border stations for more than 48 hours and 12,030 were held more than 72 hours. The holding cells at the border stations are only for short-term detention before individuals are transferred to ICE or other agencies.
It’s difficult to sleep in the fully-lit holding cells because detainees can lie down only on mats on a concrete floor or benches and people are moved in and out of the cells at all hours, according to the ruling. The cells get uncomfortably cold at night because the mylar blankets given to the detainees only prevent the loss of body heat and don’t provide warmth, the judge said.
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