- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Immigrants held by the federal government are being detained in a squalid basement where conditions are foul-smelling and dirty, a civil rights group said in a lawsuit.

Upward of 200 detainees are at times crammed into temporary holding rooms in the basement of a downtown federal building, with as many as 60 immigrants in each room, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement late Wednesday.

The allegations center on an area known as B-18, designed to hold immigrants on a temporary basis for processing after they are arrested by ICE agents.

“The conditions at B-18 are barbaric and unconscionable,” ACLU immigrants rights’ director Ahilan Arulananthama said. “There’s no drinking water except for in a sink next to a toilet, which people have to use without soap.”

ICE said in a statement it does not comment on pending litigation, but noted that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has called for a comprehensive review of the nation’s immigration detention practices.

“ICE and DHS are committed to providing secure, safe and humane treatment for all of our detainees,” the statement said.

ACLU lawyers said they did not see any of the conditions described in the lawsuit first-hand. Rather, the ACLU said its findings come after extensive interviews with dozens of immigrants.

Based on its interviews, the ACLU said the holding facility has no beds and immigrants are not supposed to be kept there for more than 12 hours at a time. On occasion, immigrants have been kept there for up to 20 hours in a day or forced to sleep on the floor, the lawsuit alleges.

“Basically, we were like animals,” said Russian immigrant Ana Suvorova, a plaintiff who spent two weeks in the basement. “I was very scared for my life.”

Detainees end up in the basement for a range of reasons. Some are in the country illegally, while others arrived with a visa and overstayed, or are claiming asylum. Some are felons fighting deportation after completing prison terms.

The holding rooms typically contain one or two non-private toilets, one sink and no soap or sanitary products, the ACLU said, and conditions are foul-smelling and dirty.

ACLU attorney Marisol Orihuela said sometimes women who are menstruating are denied sanitary supplies and some immigrants were denied access to their medicine.

“The conditions are absolutely horrid and inhumane,” Orihuela said.

Suvorova said she was arrested Dec. 24 for overstaying her tourist visa. She is now free on bail and said she feels optimistic about fighting her deportation but still has nightmares about her stay in B-18.

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