January 16, 2020 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Lawyers Try Case Challenging Border-Detention-Center Conditions

MoFo attorneys on January 13, 2020, began trying a case challenging what they allege are inhumane conditions at the Arizona detention centers of the U.S. Border Patrol, where immigrants are held until their status can be determined.

Filed in 2015 as part of what eventually became a class action brought on behalf of immigration groups, the lawsuit alleges that the holding cells in the U.S. Border Patrol’s busy Tucson Sector are dirty, cold, and overcrowded. The suit further alleges that some of the migrants detained there are denied medical care and adequate food, as well as access to beds, showers, and other basic necessities. These conditions, the suit claims, violate constitutional standards.

“The Constitution protects civil detainees from being deprived of their basic human rights. The conditions in these facilities are sickening,” said Colette Reiner Mayer, trial counsel from Morrison & Foerster LLP. “We look forward to reaching a resolution that will protect future detainees from enduring these unconstitutional conditions. Detainees have suffered for far too long. It has to stop.”

A woman from El Salvador who was arrested four years ago with her sister in the Sonoran Desert after the pair had entered the United States via Mexico testified during the first week of the trial, which is being held in the U.S. District Court of Tucson. She said that during her time at one of the Tucson Sector’s nine stations, which exceeded the 72-hour Border Patrol target, she was so cold she was shivering, according to Courthouse News. She also testified that that she was never given soap, and that the “main course” of the small meal she was offered consisted of burrito that had been expired for two years.

Border Patrol security-camera video shows the floor of the cell where the witness was detained, which is generally intended to contain 10 people, covered with women with no space between their sleeping mats.

“This isn’t just about toothbrushes or blankets,” said Alvaro Huerta, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “We are better than this. We must demand that our government treat people under its care with the dignity and respect that all human beings deserve.”

The MoFo team of lawyers comprises Palo Alto-based partner Colette Reiner Mayer and San Francisco-based partner Jack Londen, as well as associates Elizabeth Balassone, Aaron Bray, John Douglass, and Pieter de Ganon, and paralegals Anne Lepore, Gary Stenger, and Ethel Villegas. All are members of the firm’s litigation group.

MoFo is working closely with co-counsel from the ACLU of Arizona, the American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Law Center, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The trial is expected to last nine days.

Photos of conditions in the detention facilities were posted by one of our co-counsel here.