'Treated like cargo'! ICE agents shackled women in a hot van for hours, denied food and water, says lawsuit
The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, alleged that the women were also denied food and water for nearly 12 hours on a hot summer day in 2017.
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in California, shackled at least nine women in a hot windowless van and drove for hours causing them to struggle for breath, faint and vomit, according to a lawsuit.
The latest suit, filed against the federal agency by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), details claims of the extreme suffering the women faced during their journey which lasted for an entire day last year, according to reports.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, alleged that the women were also denied food and water for nearly 12 hours on a hot summer day in 2017. The lawsuit also claims that the women experienced physical injuries, medical complications and psychological damage during the transfer, according to The Guardian.
An ACLU staff attorney, Vasudha Talla, said: "The women all thought they were going to die, that they were going to experience their last breath together in that van. The stench, the heat, the crying, the screaming – it was very traumatic for the women."
Talla added that the women were "treated like cargo" by the ICE agents. Reports state that the ACLU lawsuit is seeking records on transportation practices and policies by the federal immigration authorities.
The lawsuit has come at a time when the immigration federal agency and the US-Mexico border agents are under intense scrutiny for their treatment of immigrants who are put in custody.
Separation of immigrant families at the United States-Mexico border has been severely criticized by activists, lawmakers and human rights organization across the world. The separation is a part of President Donald Trump's "zero-tolerance" policy associated with the crackdown on immigration in the country.
The family separation policy was announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May. Under the policy, Trump administration has been separating children away from their parents, who illegally enter the country, and then handing them over to the Department of Health and Human Services for reallocation.
Reports state that the women were detained by the federal agents in a facility in Richmond in northern California. According to the legal filings, they were woken up early in the morning on July 17, 2017 and were put in a van without being given enough information about where they were being taken.
One of the detained women, 38-year-old Floricel Liborio Ramos, recounted her ordeal through a blogpost and described the cold room they were put in overnight as an "ice box."
Ramos, a mother of three, reportedly was under the impression that ICE was preparing to release her, however, the agents shackled her wrists and ankles instead and transported her, along with other women to San Francisco.
According to Ramos, the women were eventually given a sandwich and water bottle at 10:30 am and were later transferred to another city in a bus without access to a bathroom.
They were then put in a dingy van with no windows, no air circulation and no vents and it appeared that the vehicle was "used for animals," Ramos said. Struggling to breathe, the women cried for help, but the driver ignored them. The group reportedly also included a woman who had claustrophobia and was screaming "in desperation," according to the claim.
Ramos added that the women — all of them were shackled — attempted to keep each other cool in the sweltering heat by blowing air on one another. However, this was not enough for a woman who began throwing up and eventually fainted.
Reports state that when the fainted woman did not respond to the others in the van, they thought she may have died. However, the driver shouted at them and asked them to shut up, ignoring their pleas for help.
Ramos added that she believed that would all die and began to pray, thinking she would never see her children again.
"I thought about not seeing my children again, not saying goodbye," Ramos said in her post.
She added that when the van reached hours later at Fresno, they were given food and water at around 10:30 pm for the first time since morning. Ramos added that the officers only unshackled one of her hands so that she could eat.
The lawsuit claim stated that by the time the women arrived and were processed at their destination in Bakersfield, a full day had passed. The filings also added that one of the women in the van, who had diabetes, was denied essential medication during the trip and another one rolled her ankle while being transferred.