Will Texas State Officials Defy the Supreme Court?

“The oath of office I take says I support the laws and Constitution of the United States; it says that first.”

Dallas County Clerk John Warren
Dallas County Clerk John Warren
Thus spoke Dallas County Clerk John Warren when he announced that his office would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the event of a favorable Supreme Court ruling later this month. Warren likewise indicated that he would be prepared to act within an hour and a half of the ruling, and that he had already approved overtime for his staff in order to accommodate what would surely be unprecedented demand.

Other counties are following suit. Bexar County clerk Gerry Rickhoff has not only redesigned the license itself so that it does not address gender, but has also indicated that he is prepared to keep his office open 24 hours a day if necessary. And Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir will be prepared to issue marriage licenses promptly, as she has done before.

Stan Stanart1
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart

So we know Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio will be prepared to comply with a favorable Supreme Court decision on marriage equality the day it’s rendered. Unfortunately, however, same sex-couples who live in Houston—the state’s largest city and the most diverse in the country—might have to wait. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has stated that he will seek “guidance” from the state’s Attorney General before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples—and he’s made it perfectly and disturbingly clear that his reasons for preventing same-sex marriages are personal: “They’re destroying an institution, the institution of marriage.”

On the state level, politicians are reacting about as well as one would expect from a group of people who celebrate their opposition to marriage equality with slices of hate cake. The fact that their statements are predictable, however, doesn’t make them any less alarming. Representative Cecil Bell, who authored several retrograde anti-LGBT measures in the last legislative session, has stated that it would be “disappointing” to see county clerks “acting outside of Texas law,” suggesting that compliance with a Supreme Court ruling were somehow illegal. Naturally Bell added that such a ruling “is not an edict that sweeps across the land,” although that is precisely what a Supreme Court ruling does.

Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Like Bell, Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose “guidance” Stan Stanart and other clerks may seek on decision day, has stated publicly that he is “committed to defending the Texas Constitution and self-government by Texans”—the subtext being that he intends to pursue bureaucratic obstructionism if he finds the Supreme Court decision unacceptable to him and, apparently, “the will of the people of Texas.” This is in spite of the fact that polls clearly show that a strong majority of Texas voters believe that discrimination against the LGBT community is a problem.

Let the Attorney General and county clerks throughout the state know that you want them to do what their oaths and their duties already bind them to do: to obey and uphold the law of the land.

Scattershot Public Defender System in Idaho Comes Under Fire

Innocent unless proven guilty…

These words are the bedrock of our criminal justice system. Yet for many Americans who are currently navigating the justice system maze, this fundamental principle is but a dream—a reminder of what could be, if only they had the money to pay for a lawyer with the time and resources to represent them effectively.

Adequate representation in court is mandated by law. Before the government can take away a person’s liberty, the Sixth Amendment requires that the case against the defendant be put to the test. It is largely up to criminal defense attorneys to make sure the state fulfills that requirement.  The failure of the State of Idaho to ensure all public defenders there  have the resources they need to do so in an effective way puts the entire system—not to mention the liberty and livelihoods of criminal defendants—in jeopardy.

When these same issues arose in Michigan and New York in recent years, the ACLU stepped in and sued both states for their longstanding failure to provide public defenders with the tools and resources they need to represent their clients in a meaningful way.  Both cases resulted in wholesale changes to public defense delivery in those states.  And in 2013, a federal court ruled that the structural flaws of the public defense systems in two municipalities in Washington deprived indigent criminal defendants of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel.

Most recently, The ACLU, the ACLU of Idaho, and the law firm Hogan Lovells filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Idaho asking the court to force the state to fix its unconstitutional system of public defense.  The case was brought after years of advocacy and alternative efforts at encouraging state officials to address the problem with real solutions—and real funding.

The process began in 2010, when the National Legal Aid and Defender Association released a report analyzing the representation provided to criminal defendants in Idaho’s trial courts. The report found that “none of the public defender systems in the sample counties are constitutionally adequate.” Despite this disturbing reality, the Idaho Legislature has failed to make the necessary changes to ensure that anyone prosecuted for a crime in Idaho—regardless of income level—has access to an attorney with the time, training, and resources to represent them effectively.

Five years later, nothing has changed.

Low-income defendants are still unrepresented at their initial bail hearings, resulting in many pleading guilty and suffering lifelong consequences just because they felt they had no other realistic options, and in others spending extended time in pretrial detention. Public defenders are so overloaded in many counties that defendants are unable to communicate with their attorneys on a consistent basis, leaving them in the dark regarding developments in their own cases. Worst of all, without adequate resources, many public defender offices lack the resources needed to thoroughly investigate many cases, if at all, leading many defendants—even while proclaiming their innocence—to simply plead guilty rather than risk going to a trial where the playing field is tilted in favor of a better-funded prosecution.

In January 2015, even Idaho’s Gov. “Butch” Otter acknowledged that “the courts have made it clear that our current method of providing legal counsel for indigent criminal defendants does not pass constitutional muster.” Despite the governor’s admission, and the various committees and commissions that have been formed to study the issue over the last few years, the reality is that some of the most vulnerable people in Idaho continue to fall victim to this failing system.

It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that people charged with crimes within its borders are given a full and fair opportunity to defend themselves in court—and that can only be achieved when public defenders have access to the training and resources they need to zealously advocate on on all of their clients’ behalf.  As the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us more than 50 years ago, “The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours.”

ACLU and Hogan Lovells file a case in Idaho to protect the Sixth Amendment

Sikh or ROTC Cadet? Army Can’t Make College Student Choose, Federal Court Rules

What’s the difference between a beard grown because of skin sensitivity to shaving and a beard grown for religious reasons? According to the Army, only one of them will damage good order and discipline. 

And although both yarmulkes and turbans are religious head coverings, according to the Army, only one is a breach of uniformity.

Last winter, the Army refused to allow Hofstra University student Iknoor Singh to enroll in the campus ROTC program with his unshorn hair, beard, and turban, claiming that his articles of faith would breach uniformity and undermine unit cohesion, morale, good order, discipline, health, and safety.

On Friday, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., said the Army was wrong.

In a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital, and United Sikhs, the court held that the Army’s refusal to accommodate Mr. Singh’s beard, hair, and turban violated the Religious Freedom Restoration. The court ordered the Army to allow Mr. Singh to join ROTC with his articles of faith intact.

You’ve probably heard of RFRA before: Employers, such as Hobby Lobby, have used RFRA to argue that providing contraception coverage to their employees would violate their religion.  And a number of states have been trying to pass RFRAs with the intent of allowing businesses and employers to use religion to discriminate or deny services. The ACLU has opposed these efforts because they would allow religious beliefs to be used to harm others, thereby distorting RFRA’s intent and the principle of religious liberty altogether.

But harm to others isn’t at stake in Singh’s case.

In fact, the court recognized that the Army has authorized widespread exemptions to its grooming and uniform rules in recent years. For example, the Army has granted more than 100,000 exceptions to its prohibition on beards. Most of these exceptions were related to skin conditions, but some were also approved for religious or mission-related reasons, such as for special forces. The Army also allows soldiers to wear yarmulkes and other religious headgear. And the Army has either grandfathered in or outright exempted nearly 200,000 tattoos that do not comply with its grooming standards.

While the Army claims that expression of individual identity impedes uniformity and harms its mission, these specially approved tattoos have included full-sleeve and neck tattoos. They have also included tattoos that reflect soldiers’ ethnic heritage, religious beliefs, and even their love of cartoons (Mickey Mouse), movies (The Nightmare Before Christmas and Star Wars), music (The Misfits), automobiles, and holidays, which one solider depicted with a tattoo of a Christmas tree monster chasing a candy corn.

What is more, the Army has granted identical accommodation to several Sikhs in the past, and they have performed exceptionally well. Superiors of Col. Gopal Khalsa, who served for three decades and retired in 2009, even called him “our best battalion commander, bar none.”

In total, the Army has granted hundreds of thousands of exceptions to its grooming and uniform rules. When viewed alongside these myriad exceptions, the Army’s claim now that allowing one additional beard and one additional piece of religious headgear would cause host of problems — none of which were caused by any of the other similar exemptions — just doesn’t make sense. Nor, as the court recognized, does forcing Mr. Singh to choose between his faith and the opportunity to serve his country.

Evidence shows no harm would come to Army or third parties by granting a religious accommodation.

Hard Evidence on Why Domestic Violence Victims May Think Twice About Calling 911

When a man in Binghamton, New York was restrained, stabbed, and robbed in his home, his neighbor called 911. Although he told the police that he did not know the attackers or why he was targeted, the city designated this episode of random violence as a “nuisance” under local law. Officials later informed the man’s landlord of this incident and others that led to the police being called to the property.  In response, the landlord assured the city that every tenant in that building would be evicted to address this issue.

Alarmingly, this kind of story is not uncommon. Nuisance ordinances – also called crime free or disorderly house laws – are on the books in towns and cities across the country. In Binghamton, the city defines many crimes as public nuisances, such as assault, disorderly conduct, and sex offenses. All too often, when these crimes occur, the resident is the victim. Once the nuisance law is triggered, the property owner is told to address the issue or face penalties that include an order from the city closing the building. The majority of landlords respond to such warnings by removing the tenants who were the subject of a police call.

A new report issued by the ACLU, in partnership with the Social Science Research Council, reveals the devastating consequences of nuisance ordinances for victims of crime in New York and domestic violence survivors in particular.  

Silenced: How Nuisance Ordinances Punish Crime Victims in New York uncovers how victims of domestic abuse are too often further victimized by nuisance laws. The report focuses on an analysis of records from both Binghamton and Fulton, NY. Though the cities structured their ordinances differently, domestic violence was the single largest category of activity that led to enforcement of both laws. Domestic violence accounted for 38% of nuisance “points” in Binghamton and 48% of incidents in Fulton’s nuisance warnings. Both cities also routinely penalized tenants who reported other crimes committed against them, including incidents of rape, theft, and assault, or sought medical assistance.

By penalizing calls to police, nuisance laws deter the reporting of crime and force vulnerable people from their homes. Survivors of domestic violence are especially impacted by these policies because they often have to call 911 in the face of crimes that occur in their home.

Another Binghamton woman was the victim of repeated domestic violence incidents and enforcement of the local nuisance ordinance when the city declared two episodes of this violence to be nuisance conduct. In the first instance, neighbors called 911 when her boyfriend threw her to the ground and began choking her. The boyfriend was arrested and the tenant got an order of protection against him. When the boyfriend returned, uninvited, he got in a fight with another person at the property, causing a police response. Although police arrested her abuser, first for assaulting her and then violating the protection order, her landlord responded to a warning letter from the City by telling officials that the “first order of action” was to evict the woman.

The documented consequences of nuisance ordinances make clear that these policies do not further their often-stated goals of community improvement. Moreover, nuisance ordinances can also be unlawful. A number of federal lawsuits, including one brought by the ACLU on behalf of a domestic violence survivor, have successfully challenged their enforcement as violating constitutional and federal protections.

Thankfully, New York has an opportunity to take action. The New York Assembly unanimously passed legislation that would protect landlords and residents from unjust application of nuisance ordinances. The Senate and Governor Cuomo should ensure, before the end of this legislative session, that no New Yorker must choose between calling 911 and staying in their home. The bottom line is that in New York, a crime victim is not a nuisance.

Domestic violence victims too often punished for seeking help under “nuisance” laws penalizing calls to police.

Moving Toward Equality for Transgender Students in Virginia

Things were going just fine at Gloucester High School for sophomore Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy. It was the first school year he was fully out as male and the school was doing everything it should. Administrators, teachers, and students began using his new legal name and referred to him with male pronouns, and Gavin was able to use the boys’ restroom without incident.

All of this was consistent with established treatment standards for gender dysphoria, which recognize that it is essential for individuals to live consistently with their gender identity.  Or, as Gavin says, “I’m a boy, and it’s important for me to live like other boys do.”

He is right, which is why we filed a lawsuit this week against the Gloucester County School Board for revoking Gavin’s access to boys’ facilities – a violation of both the Fourteenth Amendment and federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.  Gavin’s story says a lot about the prejudice and unfairness that many trans youth face in Virginia.  Fortunately, it also gives us a spark of hope that things might be improving.

After a few months of smooth transition, some parents and others in Gloucester County besieged the school board with demands that Gavin be barred from the boys’ restrooms.  People lined up at meetings to tell the school board that letting Gavin use the restroom appropriate to his gender identity would create a bathroom free-for-all, allowing all students to use whatever bathroom they wanted.

The speakers’ comments revealed unfounded fears, stereotypes and a misunderstanding about what it means to be transgender. They said that respecting Gavin’s gender identity would lead to teenagers seeing each other’s genitals and sexual assault in the restrooms. Many of them called Gavin a “girl” or “young lady,” and one person called him a “freak.”  In the end, the school board caved under pressure and adopted a policy that boys’ and girls’ restrooms could only be used by students of the “corresponding biological gender” by a vote of 6-1.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case. The same frenzy arose in Stafford County this March when a transgender girl began to use the girls’ restroom in her elementary school.  Once again, the school board was deluged with complaints and once again, it responded by barring the student from the girls’ bathroom.  In Fairfax County, there was a similar outcry in May when the school board announced plans to amend its nondiscrimination policy to protect transgender students and employees.

Now, onto the signs of progress in Virginia.  On the state level, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion in March declaring that local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies. And similar to Gavin’s experience, it appears that before Stafford County took action against the trans girl there, school officials had provided her a welcoming environment and allowed her to use the girls’ restroom. The school division’s nondiscrimination officer explained to a complaining parent that federal law required the school to treat students appropriately according to their gender identity.  In Fairfax County, the school board passed the policy prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity despite the public hue and cry.

We hope that our lawsuit on behalf of Gavin will add to this positive momentum.  We’re pushing hard against discrimination, district by district, county by county and we’re going to keep fighting until all kids in Virginia are able to go to school to learn and not face bullying and hatred. We have a long road ahead of us.

The unconstitutional restroom policy of Gloucester County School Board isolates and stigmatizes trans students.

Moving Toward Equality for Transgender Students in Virginia

Things were going just fine at Gloucester High School for sophomore Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy. It was the first school year he was fully out as male and the school was doing everything it should. Administrators, teachers, and students began using his new legal name and referred to him with male pronouns, and Gavin was able to use the boys’ restroom without incident.

All of this was consistent with established treatment standards for gender dysphoria, which recognize that it is essential for individuals to live consistently with their gender identity.  Or, as Gavin says, “I’m a boy, and it’s important for me to live like other boys do.”

He is right, which is why we filed a lawsuit this week against the Gloucester County School Board for revoking Gavin’s access to boys’ facilities – a violation of both the Fourteenth Amendment and federal law prohibiting sex discrimination by schools.  Gavin’s story says a lot about the prejudice and unfairness that many trans youth face in Virginia.  Fortunately, it also gives us a spark of hope that things might be improving.

After a few months of smooth transition, some parents and others in Gloucester County besieged the school board with demands that Gavin be barred from the boys’ restrooms.  People lined up at meetings to tell the school board that letting Gavin use the restroom appropriate to his gender identity would create a bathroom free-for-all, allowing all students to use whatever bathroom they wanted.

The speakers’ comments revealed unfounded fears, stereotypes and a misunderstanding about what it means to be transgender. They said that respecting Gavin’s gender identity would lead to teenagers seeing each other’s genitals and sexual assault in the restrooms. Many of them called Gavin a “girl” or “young lady,” and one person called him a “freak.”  In the end, the school board caved under pressure and adopted a policy that boys’ and girls’ restrooms could only be used by students of the “corresponding biological gender” by a vote of 6-1.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case. The same frenzy arose in Stafford County this March when a transgender girl began to use the girls’ restroom in her elementary school.  Once again, the school board was deluged with complaints and once again, it responded by barring the student from the girls’ bathroom.  In Fairfax County, there was a similar outcry in May when the school board announced plans to amend its nondiscrimination policy to protect transgender students and employees.

Now, onto the signs of progress in Virginia.  On the state level, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion in March declaring that local school boards have the authority to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-discrimination policies. And similar to Gavin’s experience, it appears that before Stafford County took action against the trans girl there, school officials had provided her a welcoming environment and allowed her to use the girls’ restroom. The school division’s nondiscrimination officer explained to a complaining parent that federal law required the school to treat students appropriately according to their gender identity.  In Fairfax County, the school board passed the policy prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity despite the public hue and cry.

We hope that our lawsuit on behalf of Gavin will add to this positive momentum.  We’re pushing hard against discrimination, district by district, county by county and we’re going to keep fighting until all kids in Virginia are able to go to school to learn and not face bullying and hatred. We have a long road ahead of us.

The unconstitutional restroom policy of Gloucester County School Board isolates and stigmatizes trans students.

Two Stains on Our Nation as Anti-LGBT Bills Pass in Michigan and North Carolina

As the country awaits a decision from the Supreme Court on marriage equality, anti-LGBT forces who want to use religion to allow discrimination have pushed bills through in Michigan and North Carolina. Both North Carolina’s marriage refusal bill SB 2 and Michigan’s adoption refusal House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190 have gotten final approval and are about to be law.

The North Carolina bill would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages and was clearly prompted by the marriages of same-sex couples.  There was hope when Gov. Pat McCrory did the right thing and vetoed the legislation. But the Speaker of North Carolina’s House  called for a vote – when many legislators who would have voted ‘no’ were out of the room, no less – and overrode the governor’s veto.

The intent to harm gay and lesbian couples and their families is clear.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder today enshrined discrimination against LGBT people that will limit the pool of loving families available to the state’s most vulnerable children. Michigan’s adoption refusal law now authorizes state-paid child placement agencies to turn away qualified prospective foster or adoptive parents based solely on the religious beliefs of the agencies, regardless of their ability to care for a child. .Denying loving homes to children who so desperately need them is downright cruel and should be criminal – which is why legislatures in Texas, Alabama, and Florida rejected similar measures earlier this year.

Perhaps most shockingly, Gov. Snyder has publicly stated that he would not sign a Religious Freedom Restoration Act  into law in his state because it is discriminatory —  yet he failed to recognize the discriminatory intent behind HB 4188, 4189 and 4190 and its potentially devastating consequences for children.

States across the nation from Indiana to Arizona to Texas and beyond have defeated anti-LGBT bills this year that would have granted licenses to discriminate, indicating a promising turning point in our nation’s history. These two new laws are out of step with the direction in which our country is moving and only aim to harm. With the Supreme Court expected to rule on  marriage for same-sex couples this month, one can’t help but wonder if these actions are simply last ditch efforts to discriminate based on fear and ignorance. What else could they be given that these laws help no one and stand to hurt many?

A sad day for equality in Michigan and North Carolina, as anti-LGBT bills pass

Two Stains on Our Nation as Anti-LGBT Bills Pass in Michigan and North Carolina

As the country awaits a decision from the Supreme Court on marriage equality, anti-LGBT forces who want to use religion to allow discrimination have pushed bills through in Michigan and North Carolina. Both North Carolina’s marriage refusal bill SB 2 and Michigan’s adoption refusal House Bills 4188, 4189 and 4190 have gotten final approval and are about to be law.

The North Carolina bill would allow magistrates to refuse to perform marriages and was clearly prompted by the marriages of same-sex couples.  There was hope when Gov. Pat McCrory did the right thing and vetoed the legislation. But the Speaker of North Carolina’s House  called for a vote – when many legislators who would have voted ‘no’ were out of the room, no less – and overrode the governor’s veto.

The intent to harm gay and lesbian couples and their families is clear.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder today enshrined discrimination against LGBT people that will limit the pool of loving families available to the state’s most vulnerable children. Michigan’s adoption refusal law now authorizes state-paid child placement agencies to turn away qualified prospective foster or adoptive parents based solely on the religious beliefs of the agencies, regardless of their ability to care for a child. .Denying loving homes to children who so desperately need them is downright cruel and should be criminal – which is why legislatures in Texas, Alabama, and Florida rejected similar measures earlier this year.

Perhaps most shockingly, Gov. Snyder has publicly stated that he would not sign a Religious Freedom Restoration Act  into law in his state because it is discriminatory —  yet he failed to recognize the discriminatory intent behind HB 4188, 4189 and 4190 and its potentially devastating consequences for children.

States across the nation from Indiana to Arizona to Texas and beyond have defeated anti-LGBT bills this year that would have granted licenses to discriminate, indicating a promising turning point in our nation’s history. These two new laws are out of step with the direction in which our country is moving and only aim to harm. With the Supreme Court expected to rule on  marriage for same-sex couples this month, one can’t help but wonder if these actions are simply last ditch efforts to discriminate based on fear and ignorance. What else could they be given that these laws help no one and stand to hurt many?

A sad day for equality in Michigan and North Carolina, as anti-LGBT bills pass

ACLU and Partners File Suit Against US Border Patrol for Savage Treatment in Detention Facilities

Imagine fleeing your home, traveling thousands of miles to escape a life-threatening situation, unable to reunite with your children or feed your family. Along the way you are robbed, beaten, or sexually assaulted. You are forced to cross a barren desert, physically unable to carry enough water to survive.

Then imagine that you are detained by U.S. immigration officials — and subjected to prolonged abuse and mistreatment all over again while held incommunicado in government custody.

This is the experience of tens of thousands of men, women, and children who find themselves denied food, water, and medical care while detained in the frigid, filthy, and overcrowded detention facilities the U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates along the United States’ border with Mexico.

Earlier this week, the ACLU of Arizona and a group of civil rights organizations filed a class action lawsuit to end the daily brutality that Border Patrol inflicts on migrants in southern Arizona.

This suit aims to improve the horrific conditions in detention facilities in Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which covers 262 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and is traditionally one of the most heavily enforced. Every year, scores of people die attempting to pass through the Tucson Sector, while tens of thousands more are detained by the Border Patrol.

After countless complaints, government and NGO reports, and media accounts, there are few domestic human rights issues more thoroughly documented than the degrading conditions in Border Patrol’s notorious hieleras, or “iceboxes” — so named because of the freezing cold temperatures in which detainees are held for days on end. One man described lying on the cold, concrete floor of one of these facilities as “trying to sleep on ice.” To ensure maximum discomfort, individuals — including young children, some of them U.S. citizens — are stripped of outer layers of clothing and denied beds, mattress, and blankets.

The stories of the people detained in these conditions are horrific, their sheer consistency shocking: children left crying through the night from cold and hunger, or denied medical attention; detainees sick, exhausted, and shivering, pleading in vain for Border Patrol agents to turn up the temperature; others forced to lie next to filthy toilets or unable to even sit down due to overcrowding; and the repeated response of agents that this mistreatment is their punishment for coming to the U.S.

The government is well aware that this is going on. In response to a 2014 ACLU complaint, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged “recurring problems” with Border Patrol detention conditions. Still, the government failed to implement any meaningful reforms and continues to deny access to outside observers, including attorneys.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising, given Border Patrol’s culture of abuse and refusal to hold agents accountable. Indeed, notwithstanding long-overdue efforts to reform local police departments, Congress and the Obama administration have continually given the U.S. Customs and Border Protection — the largest federal law enforcement agency – a free pass to violate rights on a massive scale and with near total impunity.

The persistence of punitive detention conditions is also the result of the government’s inhumane border enforcement strategy, which seeks to discourage migration by imposing “consequences,” or suffering, on immigrants — intentionally driving them into the deadliest desert regions, warehousing them in private prisons, and, in this case, brutalizing them in detention cells.

There is no justification for these savage policies. The systemic mistreatment of individuals in Border Patrol custody is both cruel and unconstitutional. We hope that this lawsuit will be the first step to holding Border Patrol accountable for this cruelty and abuse. No human being should have to suffer this way at the hands of the U.S. government.

We must end the daily brutality that Border Patrol inflicts on migrants.

ACLU and Partners File Suit Against US Border Patrol for Savage Treatment in Detention Facilities

Imagine fleeing your home, traveling thousands of miles to escape a life-threatening situation, unable to reunite with your children or feed your family. Along the way you are robbed, beaten, or sexually assaulted. You are forced to cross a barren desert, physically unable to carry enough water to survive.

Then imagine that you are detained by U.S. immigration officials — and subjected to prolonged abuse and mistreatment all over again while held incommunicado in government custody.

This is the experience of tens of thousands of men, women, and children who find themselves denied food, water, and medical care while detained in the frigid, filthy, and overcrowded detention facilities the U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates along the United States’ border with Mexico.

Earlier this week, the ACLU of Arizona and a group of civil rights organizations filed a class action lawsuit to end the daily brutality that Border Patrol inflicts on migrants in southern Arizona.

This suit aims to improve the horrific conditions in detention facilities in Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, which covers 262 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border and is traditionally one of the most heavily enforced. Every year, scores of people die attempting to pass through the Tucson Sector, while tens of thousands more are detained by the Border Patrol.

After countless complaints, government and NGO reports, and media accounts, there are few domestic human rights issues more thoroughly documented than the degrading conditions in Border Patrol’s notorious hieleras, or “iceboxes” — so named because of the freezing cold temperatures in which detainees are held for days on end. One man described lying on the cold, concrete floor of one of these facilities as “trying to sleep on ice.” To ensure maximum discomfort, individuals — including young children, some of them U.S. citizens — are stripped of outer layers of clothing and denied beds, mattress, and blankets.

The stories of the people detained in these conditions are horrific, their sheer consistency shocking: children left crying through the night from cold and hunger, or denied medical attention; detainees sick, exhausted, and shivering, pleading in vain for Border Patrol agents to turn up the temperature; others forced to lie next to filthy toilets or unable to even sit down due to overcrowding; and the repeated response of agents that this mistreatment is their punishment for coming to the U.S.

The government is well aware that this is going on. In response to a 2014 ACLU complaint, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged “recurring problems” with Border Patrol detention conditions. Still, the government failed to implement any meaningful reforms and continues to deny access to outside observers, including attorneys.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising, given Border Patrol’s culture of abuse and refusal to hold agents accountable. Indeed, notwithstanding long-overdue efforts to reform local police departments, Congress and the Obama administration have continually given the U.S. Customs and Border Protection — the largest federal law enforcement agency – a free pass to violate rights on a massive scale and with near total impunity.

The persistence of punitive detention conditions is also the result of the government’s inhumane border enforcement strategy, which seeks to discourage migration by imposing “consequences,” or suffering, on immigrants — intentionally driving them into the deadliest desert regions, warehousing them in private prisons, and, in this case, brutalizing them in detention cells.

There is no justification for these savage policies. The systemic mistreatment of individuals in Border Patrol custody is both cruel and unconstitutional. We hope that this lawsuit will be the first step to holding Border Patrol accountable for this cruelty and abuse. No human being should have to suffer this way at the hands of the U.S. government.

We must end the daily brutality that Border Patrol inflicts on migrants.