Images filed as evidence in a lawsuit against the U.S. Border Patrol citing inhumane conditions in Arizona detention facilities show men jammed together under a thin thermal blanket trying to stay warm and a woman using a concrete floor strewn with trash to change a baby’s diaper.
The photos made public Thursday are from cell surveillance video inside least four Border Patrol stations.
They were submitted late Wednesday in a lawsuit against the Border Patrol for conditions described as disgusting in the agency’s Tucson sector, which makes up most of Arizona.
The National Immigration Law Center and the ACLU argued in court that the images should be made public to help prove allegations that the Border Patrol routinely holds immigrants in extremely cold and dirty cells.
Government lawyers representing the Border Patrol argued for the photos and other documents to be kept from public view, saying their release would violate privacy rights of migrants and Border Patrol and could raise security concerns.
The faces of people that show up in the images that were released were blacked out. Pictures made public in June showed rusty toilets, dirty toilet paper on the floor and a malfunctioning water fountain in the detention areas. Another image released Thursday showed a child crawling on a cell’s concrete floor.
Some of the most troubling photos showed children sitting around trash, said Nora Preciado, a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. Others showed empty cells filled with sleeping mats while nearby cells had people in them but no mats.
The images also showed more than 20 men crammed into one cell, covering themselves with thin thermal blankets made of extremely thin material.
“I have visited many detention facilities in my 11 years as an attorney and I have to say what the Border Patrol facilities look like really is deplorable and disgusting,” Preciado said.
The Border Patrol issued a statement that did not directly address the images but insisted it is “committed to the safety, security and welfare of those in our custody, especially those who are most vulnerable.”
The holding facilities are also subject to unannounced inspections by the Department of Homeland Security, the statement added.
The cells shown in the images are designed to provide short-term shelter for detainees until they can be processed, the agency said.
Migrants are usually deported or transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has long-term detention centers.
U.S. Judge David C. Bury in September issued sanctions against the Border Patrol over destruction of surveillance video evidence in the case.
The coalition that filed the lawsuit was then allowed to inspect and photograph four of the eight stations with holding cells. It now receives continuous surveillance video from the Border Patrol as ordered by Bury, Preciado said.
The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of three immigrants who said they were held in freezing cells while waiting to be transferred.
It was turned into a class-action lawsuit and the groups that sued have interviewed more than 75 former detainees who described cells as filthy and lacking basic needs such as beds.
The lawsuit also accuses the Border Control agency of failing to adequately screen detainees for dangerous medical conditions and for failing to provide adequate access to medical treatment from health care workers.
The Border Patrol said last year that agents “make every effort to ensure that those in our custody are given food, water, and medical attention as needed.”