No More Hieleras: Doe v. Kelly’s Fight for Constitutional Rights at the Border


U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) short-term holding cells have received mass media
attention because of their inhumane and punitive conditions. CBP agents and immigration
detainees alike refer to these cells as hieleras, Spanish for freezers or iceboxes, because these
cells, which hold migrants arrested while crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, have unbearably
cold temperatures—as low as 58.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with freezing temperatures,
detainees must endure overcrowded and unsanitary cells, prolonged detention, deprivations
of basic human needs such as food, water and hygiene, and inadequate medical care.

Despite widespread media attention, legal scholarship has not yet explored the constitutional and
policy issues raised by the deplorable hielera conditions. This Comment draws attention to rights
violations inside hieleras and is the first to analyze a groundbreaking class action lawsuit brought
by an immigrants’ rights coalition to challenge the conditions in CBP holding cells. In addition
to analyzing this promising litigation strategy, this Comment also argues that the U.S. Congress
should explore solutions, such as federal legislation and independent monitoring, to improve
confinement standards.

About the Author

J.D., David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, UCLA School of Law, 2019; B.A., UCLA, 2016.

By uclalaw