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Judge: Tucson CBP facilities violate Constitution

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- A federal judge in Arizona has ruled in favor of migrants who sued U.S. Customs and Border Protection over conditions at its Tucson facilities.

U.S. District Judge David C. Bury issued his ruling Wednesday, stating the treatment migrants receive at facilities in CBP's Tucson sector violate the constitution, granting the unnamed plaintiffs injunction relief that bars CBP from holding detainees no longer than 48 hours, unless the federal agency can provide for their basic human needs including a bed with a blanket, a shower, food, water and a medical assessment by a professional, among others.

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The ruling comes in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2015 and follows a seven-day trial in January, during which the court found that the CBP's mission is to arrest, process and turn detained migrants over to one of several immigration agencies and not keep them in custody for over two days.

"CBP stations and holding facilities are designed within the context of this mission for short-term holds, lasting hours not days," Bury wrote. "There is no legitimate government interest to hold detainees longer than the time needed to complete this mission."

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Bury said evidence shows long detentions at the facilities are caused by other agencies unable to accept detainees due to capacity constraints. However, the plaintiffs, who are civil detainees, experienced conditions "substantially worse" than those in a criminal detention facility where inmates are medically screened have a bed with sheets, blankets and pillows and can have uninterrupted sleep, he said.

"The court finds that the conditions of detention in CBP holding cells, especially those that preclude sleep over several nights, are presumptively punitive and violate the Constitution," he said.

In his ruling, Bury said surveillance video of the facilities showed overcrowding so severe there was no place for detainees to sit let alone lie down, that some, including children, were forced to sleep in toilet stalls for lack of space and some had to sleep sitting up.

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Bury also ordered CBP from overcrowding cells to the extent detainees are forced to sleep in a toilet area as it is "unsanitary and degrading."

"Overcrowding exacerbates other deprivations, including sleep, as well as access to toilets and potable water, and compounds personal hygiene needs," he wrote. "Floor sleeping in toilet areas is humiliating to both the detainee sleeping there and any detainee needing to use the toilet."

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Bury also said confinement of an inmate who has not been convicted violates two amendments of the constitution if it imposes them harm.

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Alvaro M. Huerta, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said Bury's ruling is a "tremendous victory" for those fighting to uphold the Constitution.

"The court recognizes the grave injustices suffered by our brave plaintiffs and tens of thousands of others similarly detained by the Border Patrol in deplorable, dangerous conditions in the Tucson sector," Huerta said in a statement. "We are enthused that our justice system has intervened in a meaningful way to institute much-needed change and hold CBP accountable."

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