An undocumented woman who was shackled before and after giving birth in Tennessee will receive $490,000 in a settlement and now has the prospect of a U-visa.
Juana Villegas, a mother of four – all U.S. citizens – who moved to the United States from Mexico in the 1990s, was arrested in 2008 after she failed to show a driver’s license during a traffic stop in Nashville. She was detained for being in the United States illegally by police officers who had immigration enforcement powers as part of a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program – called the 287(g) program – that allows local police departments to question people about their immigration status and detain them until ICE can take custody.
Villegas gave birth only three days after her arrest and was taken back to the jail without her newborn son. She was not allowed to use her breast pump in the jail, and she developed a painful breast infection.
Villegas filed a lawsuit in 2009 asserting that her eighth amendment rights to protection from cruel and unusual punishment were violated. In 2011, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled in Villegas’ favor on the basis that the officers were deliberately indifferent to her medical needs, but the government of Nashville and Davidson County, TN appealed. A dispute over the amount of damages was making its way through court when officials decided to settle.
Villegas will receive $100,000 from the settlement and the rest will go to her lawyers. The U-visa she may receive is usually reserved for victims of crime, but the judge said it was in order because her civil rights were violated. It will allow her to live and work legally in the country for four years and apply for permanent residency in her third year.
Other families in similar situations have not been as lucky with the legal system. Approximately 5.5 million children in the U.S. have an undocumented parent, and about 4.5 million of these children are U.S. citizens. In the first six months of 2011, the federal government deported over 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children. TheApplied Research Center has estimated that there are at least 5,100 children living in foster care whose parents have been either detained or deported, and in counties with 287(g) agreements – like the kind operating in Villegas case – children in foster care were about 29 percent more likely to have a detained or deported parent than in other counties.
Davidson County has since discontinued the 287(g) program, and the Obama administration has reduced it nationwide after criticism by immigrant advocate groups.
Media Resources: The Tennessean 10/12/13; The New York Times 10/17/13; More Law 3/5/13; CBS News 10/18/13; Applied Research Center