Undocumented mother wins civil lawsuit

A federal judge ruled that Juana Villegas' civil rights were violated when jail authorities kept her handcuffed to a bed during the final stages of her labor and postpartum recovery. U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes Jr. must now set a hearing to determine damages against the Metropolitan Nashville government and the Davidson County Sheriff's Office in Tennessee.

In July 2008, when Juana was 9 months pregnant, she was pulled over during a traffic stop by Nashville police for reckless driving, no driver's license, and no insurance. Upon verifying that Juana was in the country illegally and had previously been deported, she was taken to the Davidson County Jail, where she gave birth 2 days after her arrest. During her labor she was handcuffed to a bed, separated from her newborn child for 2 days, and was not allowed to have a breast pump used by nursing mothers in her cell.

Experts from the Sheriff's Office justified the use of the shackles during the deliveries by arguing that there was a danger that undocumented immigrants would flee and engage in illegal activities. Contrary to that testimony, in his decision this past Wednesday, April 27, Judge Haynes ruled that Juana was "neither a flight risk nor a danger to anyone." In court filings, medical personnel testified that they asked the sheriff's deputies to remove the pregnant woman's handcuffs.

The Juana Villegas case prompted the sheriff's office to change its policy of restraining pregnant women. According to what officials tell the press, they now only handcuff pregnant women during the process of transporting them from one side to the other, or if there is a credible threat that they will try to escape.

Although Juana won this civil lawsuit, it does not mean that she will be able to remain in the United States. Her case remains pending before the immigration authorities.

The newspaper The Tennessean has the video of when Juana was pulled over during a traffic stop. You can watch it here.