humanitarian aid

Challenging Conditions at Border Detention Sites: A Legal Stand for Migrant Rights

In a significant legal action reflecting the ongoing challenges faced by migrants at the United States border, two notable organizations advocating for the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants have initiated a lawsuit against the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in a California federal court. The lawsuit aims to shed light on the distressing conditions at several open-air migrant detention sites along California's southern desert border, specifically in areas such as San Diego County and near the San Ysidro port of entry, as well as the Jacumba region.

Al Otro Lado and the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, the organizations behind this legal move, assert that since May, CBP has been mandating migrants to wait for asylum processing and other forms of relief under dire circumstances. These sites, lacking essential amenities like food, water, shelter, sanitation, and medical care, expose migrants to hazardous conditions, sometimes for extended periods.

The complaint highlights the existence of multiple outdoor sites, including four near the San Ysidro port of entry and three near Jacumba, with indications of additional sites being established in the Otay Mountain Wilderness area. The suit paints a grim picture of the living conditions faced by hundreds of individuals from various countries, stranded in the California desert, clinging to the hope of finding protection in the United States.

This situation marks a departure from previous practices where apprehended migrants were directly taken to holding facilities, which were subject to certain standards concerning cleanliness, safety, and access to basic necessities. The organizations have raised concerns about the lack of adherence to these standards at the open-air sites, citing instances of CBP issuing wristbands to migrants to indicate their arrival times at these sites and the frequent transportation of migrants to these locations.

A study conducted by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at the University of California in San Diego lends further weight to these claims, revealing that a significant majority of migrants interviewed at the Jacumba sites felt that attempting to leave the encampments would result in arrest or detention by CBP.

The lawsuit also points to the inadequate response from CBP to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by the organizations, seeking transparency regarding the operations and conditions at these sites. This lack of information has prompted legal action to compel CBP to disclose the requested details, emphasizing the urgency of addressing the humanitarian crisis unfolding at these detention sites.

Humanitarian aid groups, including Al Otro Lado, have been at the forefront of providing essential support to migrants at these sites. However, the escalating needs and worsening conditions have strained resources, highlighting the critical role of governmental responsibility in ensuring the humane treatment of migrants.

Erika Pinheiro, Executive Director of Al Otro Lado, and Edith Sangüeza, Staff Attorney at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, have voiced their condemnation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's apparent neglect of migrant welfare. They argue that the failure to provide basic survival necessities and the resulting endangerment of lives run counter to both legal obligations and moral principles.

This legal challenge against CBP comes in the wake of broader concerns regarding the treatment of migrant children at these open-air detention sites. Previous legal actions have accused CBP of violating the protections afforded under the Flores settlement agreement, which outlines the standards for the detention of immigrant children.

As immigration attorneys dedicated to upholding the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers, it is crucial to stay informed about these developments and advocate for justice and humane treatment at all levels of the immigration process. The plight of migrants at these border detention sites serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by individuals seeking safety and a better life in the United States.


Varona, Rae Ann. "CBP Sued For Info On Alleged Outdoor Border Detention Sites." Law360, March 15, 2024.

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