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Advocates: Photos show filthy Border Patrol holding cells

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A federal judge has unsealed photographs of Border Patrol stations in Arizona, where advocates say migrants experience inhumane conditions while being temporarily held.

The pictures show rusty toilets and dirty toilet paper on the floor. A malfunctioning water fountain is also pictured.

The documents were unsealed Monday. The Arizona Republic, which has sued to access them, first reported the decision.

A coalition of advocacy groups filed the suit a year ago claiming the Tucson Sector, which comprises most of Arizona and includes eight stations, keeps holding cells extremely cold and dirty.

In September, Judge David C. Bury issued sanctions against the Border Patrol over destruction of surveillance video evidence in the case. The coalition, including the ACLU of Arizona, was then allowed to inspect and photograph four of the eight stations.

But the government argued that those photos and other documents should be kept under seal, saying they violated privacy rights of both migrants and Border Patrol agents and that the release was not necessary to resolve the lawsuit.

“Some the documents contain information that, if publicly released, would raise security concerns, and could impede the law enforcement mission of Tucson Sector Border Patrol,” attorneys for the government wrote.

The Border Patrol on Tuesday said it does not comment on pending litigation. It has said in the past that it takes the safety and welfare of detainees seriously.

“If the agency expended half as much effort addressing the unconscionable conditions in its detention centers as it has spent concealing those conditions this litigation might not be necessary,” ACLU attorney James Lyall said.

Lyall said the Border Patrol holds migrants in an unconstitutional and inhumane way. The coalition has filed for a preliminary injunction hoping to force the agency to change the way it handles detention.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of three immigrants who said they were held in freezing cells while waiting to be transferred to the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles long-term detainment and deportations.

The groups that sued interviewed over 75 former detainees who described cells as filthy and lacking basic needs such as beds. The plaintiffs also say the Border Patrol doesn’t adequately screen for dangerous medical conditions or provide access to medical personnel.

Lyall said the ACLU will push for more of the sealed documents to be released publicly.

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