Detained Immigrants Held in “The Freezers”

Detained Immigrants Held in “The Freezers”

Immigrants apprehended along the US-Mexico border are often confined to short-term detention facilities managed by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) until they can be processed and turned over to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). According to CBP policy issued in 2008, “all persons arrested or detained by the Border Patrol will be held in facilities that are safe, secure and clean.”[1] The policy further provides that every effort should be made to “promptly” process, transfer, transport, remove or release those in custody.

Although CBP policy provided that immigrants are supposed to be confined in CBP facilities for no longer than 12 hours, CBP detention frequently lasts for longer periods.[2] Describing their experiences in these centers, immigrants detail poor conditions, including “rooms kept at temperatures so low that men, women and children have developed illnesses associated with the cold, lack of sleep, overcrowding, and inadequate food, water and toilet facilities.”[3] Interviews conducted by Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ) with more than 50 immigrants detained in the Texas Rio Grande Valley Sector also reveal failure by CBP officers to provide medical assistance, mattresses, blankets and basic supplies such as toothbrushes, soap and sanitary items.[4]

Rachael Bale, Researcher for The Center for Investigative Reporting, further explored the chilly holding cells referred to by immigrants and some Border Patrol agents as las hieleras, or “the freezers.” In a recent article, Ms. Bale reports that a few politicians have recently attempted to address detention conditions through legislation. Senator Barbara Boxer of California introduced Amendment 1260 to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). Amendment 1260 would have limited the number of people held in a cell and required access to potable water and food, bathroom facilities, hygiene items, medical care and adequate climate control. The amendment, however, did not survive to the final version of S. 744, which the Senate adopted in June 2013. The Protect Family Values at the Border Act (H. R. 3130), introduced by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard of California on September 18, 2013, incorporates similar provisions on short-term custody standards.  To date, this bill remains in committee.

In March 2013, AIJ announced that it had filed Federal Tort Claims actions on behalf of four immigrants who were allegedly subjected to inhuman and unlawful treatment by CBP.[5]

For more information, please read Rachael Bale’s article at


[1] Aguilar, David V. to All Chief Patrol Agents. “Hold Rooms and Short Term Custody.” Department of Homeland Security, June 2, 2008.

[2] U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Hold Rooms and Short Term Custody.” Department of Homeland Security, January 31, 2008.

[3] Bale, Rachael. “Detained Border Crossers May Find Themselves Sent to ‘the Freezers’.” Center for Investigative Reporting, November 18, 2013.

[4] Americans for Immigrant Justice. “The “Hieleras”: A Report on Human & Civil Rights Abuses Committed by U.S. Customs & Border Protection.” August 7, 2013.

[5] Americans for Immigrant Justice. “AI Justice Takes Action Against Border Patrol for Abusing Immigrant Women,” March 13, 2013.