Immigration Detention Advocates File Supreme Court Brief to Preserve Federal Court Damages Remedy for Constitutional Violations in Immigration Detention

PRESS RELEASE, January 13, 2017

Media Contact: Ranjana Natarajan, Director, Civil Rights Clinic, University of Texas School of Law, rnatarajan@law.utexas.edu, 512-232-7222 (office)

AUSTIN, Texas – A group of 22 immigration detention advocacy organizations filed a friend-of-the-court (or amicus) brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on December 23, 2016, in the case of Ziglar v. Abbasi. Professor Ranjana Natarajan of the University of Texas School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, law student Alexander Stamm (TexasLaw ’17), and the law firm of Jones Day LLP co-authored the brief. The Supreme Court hears argument on the case next week, on January 18, 2017.

In Ziglar v. Abbasi, several Muslim, Arab, and South Asian men who were rounded up and imprisoned following the September 11, 2001 attacks brought suit against prison and high-level government officials for punitive and abusive mistreatment in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, the plaintiffs won the right to proceed with their case in the court below.

A group of 22 organizations that advocate for the due process rights of immigration detainees, including Human Rights Watch, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, filed a brief explaining why the Supreme Court should preserve a federal court damages remedy for constitutional violations in immigration detention.

The brief explained that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains over 400,000 immigrants each year, with about 33,000 on any given day, at over 200 secure facilities across the county. According to reports by advocates as well as government agencies, detainees face persistent and widespread abuse at these facilities. Abuses include medical and mental health neglect leading to death, physical abuse and excessive use of force, arbitrary and retaliatory use of solitary confinement, sexual assault, interference with religious practices, and harsh and woefully substandard conditions of confinement such as lack of access to adequate nutrition, water, and sanitation.

In light of persistent, amply documented abuses, and DHS’s callous disregard and failure to eliminate the abuses, the brief argues that the Court should allow plaintiffs and other detainees who have been abused in violation of the U.S. Constitution to sue for damages in federal court.

Professor Ranjana Natarajan, counsel on the brief and Director of the law school’s Civil Rights Clinic, said, “The story of immigration detention is one of widespread abuses, from medical neglect to physical abuse, at facilities of all kinds across the country. Preserving a judicial remedy for serious constitutional violations like those alleged in this case is an important check against such abuses.”

A downloadable PDF version of the amicus brief is found here.