Immigrants held in US prison sue over harsh conditions

2018-08-02 21:15
Department of Homeland Security buses with detained immigrants aboard enter the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. (James Quigg, The Daily Press via AP, File)

Department of Homeland Security buses with detained immigrants aboard enter the Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. (James Quigg, The Daily Press via AP, File)

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Immigrants sued the US government over conditions at a federal prison in California used to house detainees since the Trump administration sought to toughen enforcement on the US-Mexico border.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Riverside says harsh prison conditions at a medium-security facility in Victorville, California, are too restrictive for detainees awaiting their immigration court hearings, many who are seeking asylum. It also alleges they have been deprived of religious rights by being denied access to a Bible and use of a Sikh turban.

"As a result of the unconstitutional treatment of these civil detainees, many have expressed a desire to be returned, immediately, to their countries of origin – foregoing their claims for immigration relief altogether – because they would rather face the dangers back home than be imprisoned in these abysmal conditions," according to the lawsuit, which alleges inadequate medical care and food and seeks to have detainees removed from the prison.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on pending litigation. The agency says about 700 detainees are currently at the facility.

Overcrowding at immigration facilities

Immigration authorities began sending detainees to prisons in Oregon, Washington and elsewhere in June to deal with overcrowding at immigration facilities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons set aside up to 1 600 beds to house immigration detainees as the Trump administration sought to stem illegal border crossing and take a stricter approach to asylum cases.

Since then, immigrant advocates have filed a separate lawsuit to gain access to detainees held in Victorville, who they said were deprived access to lawyers and phone calls and placed on lockdown for days at a time.

In Wednesday's lawsuit, plaintiffs said the prison didn't issue detainees a change of clothing for the first two to three weeks. They only have a few hours of outdoor exercise time each week and no educational or other programming, the lawsuit said.

In Oregon, similar litigation has been filed over conditions at a federal prison in rural Sheridan. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union are involved in both cases.

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