Rights Groups Want Border Patrol Held in Contempt of Court

January 11, 2017
(Photo courtesy U.S. District Court Tucson)
Migrants awaiting processing inside CBP facilities wrap themselves in mylar blankets provided by the agency to keep warm.

Civil-rights groups are asking a federal judge in Tucson to hold the Border Patrol in contempt of court in an ongoing court battle to disclose how detained migrants are treated while in custody.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection was ordered to turn over video surveillance of its holding facilities in its Tucson Sector last August. That was after a judge ruled the agency needed to upgrade its cold, crowded and dirty holding facilities as part of a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and other rights groups.

The holding cells are meant to hold immigrants who crossed the border illegally for a short period of time until they are either deported back to Mexico or placed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's custody. 

For years, people have complained that these facilities are extremely cold, unsanitary and, at times, do not provide people with adequate clean water either to drink or to clean themselves with.

Now, plaintiffs in the case say the agency turned over corrupted video files that can not be viewed.

Karen Tumlin is legal director of the National Immigration Law Center and a lawyer in the case.

"They had known about that for several months up to six months and had not let us know,"  Tumlin said.

As part of the contempt of court request, Tumlin said the agency knew the files were corrupted and neglected to let the judge or the plaintiffs know that. 

"To this day, and, despite this Court’s Order, defendants have inexplicably refused to provide a comprehensive status report indicating what video data archived to date has been corrupted (and what has not). Thus, plaintiffs do not know what data or how much of it is corrupt and unusable. What is clear, however, is that the corrupt data includes footage of Tucson Sector hold rooms—without doubt the most important evidence in this case," plaintiffs wrote to the judge.

As part of its request for a contempt of court order, the plaintiffs want the judge to appoint an independent monitor to ensure CBP follows his instructions.

CBP officials did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.