The woman who gave birth while in custody last July and was set on a path to deportation as part of the controversial 287(g) program has filed suit in federal court seeking damages along with a ruling that would change United States policy on immigration enforcement nationwide.
Juana Villegas filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee earlier this month and named Metro, the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and the United States Department of Homeland Security as defendants. Homeland Security oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which implements 287(g).
The Davidson County’s Sheriff’s Office has utilized 287(g) since 2007. The program allows local law enforcement to check the immigration status of those who enter the local jail.
More than 5,000 individuals have been identified as illegal immigrants in Nashville because of 287(g).
However, opponents have criticized the program because it sometimes sends individuals on the path to deportation for something as minor as a traffic stop.
Villegas was pulled over last July in Berry Hill for careless driving after she allegedly changed lanes without using a turn signal. Berry Hill Police Sgt. Tim Coleman elected to arrest Villegas, who was nine months pregnant, instead of issuing her a traffic citation and once she was in the Davidson County jail, she went into labor.
According to reports, Villegas was taken to Metro General Hospital at Meharry, where she was shackled to her bed during the early parts of her labor and after she gave birth. She was denied a breast pump and went hours without seeing her child, reports show.
Eventually, Villegas had the original traffic charge dismissed because Coleman reportedly did not fill out the citation correctly.
While she still faces deportation, her attorney Elliot Ozment has filed suit to block that.
Currently, Villegas filed suit in federal court to receive damages and to have the court rule on the legality of 287(g).
The Department of Homeland Security filed a motion to dismiss, which Villegas’ attorneys — along with Ozment the Nashville firm Sherrard and Roe is representing her — answered last week. Villegas’ attorneys argued that the Department of Homeland Security must remain a party to the lawsuit because “Metro cannot provide the relief she desires from ICE: changes in its unauthorized and unconstitutional policies.”
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office changed its policy on how it handles its female prisoners who go into labor following the Villegas incident. At the time of her arrest, Villegas’ story received much media attention, including a New York Times piece.