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Villegas Wins Case After Being Shackled During Childbirth

Human rights supporters and immigration advocates said the case signified an undercurrent of bias against immigrants. Villegas’ arrest may have been racial profiling by police, they said.

Echegaray C. The Tennessean.



A federal judge has ruled in favor of a Nashville mother who triggered a national outcry after she was shackled during labor and after giving birth while in custody of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.

U.S District Court Judge William Haynes Jr. will set a hearing for damages against Metro government and the sheriff’s office in the Juana Villegas case, which grew out of a July 3, 2008, traffic stop in Berry Hill.

Nine months pregnant, Villegas was arrested and charged with careless driving and driving without vehicle insurance. She didn’t have a driver’s license.

A check of Villegas’ immigration status found she had a previous deportation order to her native Mexico. Her water broke on July 5 and she delivered the baby at 1 a.m. on July 6.

In his decision Wednesday, Haynes wrote that Villegas was “neither a risk of flight nor a danger to anyone,” citing medical testimony. The judge concluded that shackling Villegas during the final stages of her labor and her post-partum recovery violated her civil rights.

Villegas’ lawyer, Elliott Ozment, said the judge’s decision was courageous, declaring that no pregnant woman should be subjected to such treatment.

She was separated from her newborn son for two days and was not allowed to have a breast pump or cream for lactating mothers in her cell.

Villegas wasn’t available to comment Wednesday but Ozment said she was happy and “it hasn’t really sunk in for her yet.”

“She is a very humble woman and she (sued) so this does not happen to another woman in the United States, regardless of their race and ethnic heritage,” Ozment added.

Sherrard & Roe attorneys also represented Villegas in the federal case.

The sheriff’s office declined to comment. In combating the lawsuit, it cited expert testimony on the danger of “illegal immigrants fleeing and engaging in illegal activities” to justify shackling the expectant mother to the bed.

But Haynes said there is “no empirical support of those assertions that illegal aliens as a group commit crime that endangers the public safety.”

Under a program named 287(g) after a section of federal immigration law, Davidson County deputies run all foreign-born inmates through an immigration database and hold them for possible deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Villegas was discovered to be in the U.S. illegally through the 287(g) program.

Human rights supporters and immigration advocates said the case signified an undercurrent of bias against immigrants. Villegas’ arrest may have been racial profiling by police, they said.

Reports that she had been shackled to the bed sparked criticism that led the sheriff’s office to change its policy on restraining pregnant women. Now, officials say, pregnant women are shackled only during transport if there is a credible threat that they may try to escape.

Medical staff had told deputies to unshackle Villegas, according to court records. Under the ICE detainer, she would have been released from custody while the case was being considered.

Villegas, the mother of four U.S.-born children, has lived in this country for 17 years, returning quickly after a 1996 deportation to Mexico.

Now deportation looms again after the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals denied a request that would have allowed her to stay.

Ozment is pushing immigration officials not to deport Villegas.

Contact Chris Echegaray at 615-664-2144 or cechegaray@tennessean.com.

Category: In The News, Women and Jails | Tags: ,

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