By Dianne
Frazee-Walker

A
2008 traffic stop landed a Mexican immigrant woman a $490,000 settlement and a
possible resident visa.

The
financial settlement is the outcome of a 5-year legal battle over Ms. Villegas’s civil rights being
violated while she was detained for 6-days in a Nashville jail.

Image courtesy nytimes.com  

Ms.
Villegas’s nightmare began when authorities discovered she was in the country
illegally when she was pulled over in a Nashville suburb. Authorities
discovered Villegas had been residing in the United States since 1996 and had
been previously deported.  She was
arrested and detained for 6-days. Villegas’s immediate custody was justified by
an immigration agreement between Davidson County and federal authorities that
gave immigration enforcement powers to sheriff’s officers.  

The
problem was Villegas was 9-months pregnant when she was hauled off to jail. A
short time after she was taken into custody, Villegas gave birth to a baby boy.
Nevertheless, officials didn’t waste any time returning Villegas to jail after
the birth without her new born infant in arm.

During
Villegas’s delivery officials displayed no signs of compassion when they restrained
her to the bed with shackles.

Did
the officials who bound Ms. Villegas to the bed believe she was actually going
to make a mad dash for the door while going through labor or is this just an
outdated procedure?

As
if this wasn’t enough inhumane treatment, Villegas was prohibited from bringing
the breast pump the nurse gave her to the jail and she developed a painful
breast infection. 

In 2011 Villegas’s ordeal was finally addressed
by a federal judge. Tennessee federal judge, William J. Haynes Jr. ruled that
jail officials treated Villegas while incarcerated with “deliberate
indifference” to her medical needs by shackling her ankle to her hospital bed
through most of her labor and during recovery. 

The city
of Nashville contested the ruling and the case became a 2-year battle.

Last year, the federal immigration enforcement
lost the 2-year battle to immigrant advocates and the Obama administration.
Immigrant advocate groups relentlessly maintained their passionate aversion to
the program that relinquished to the sheriff’s office the authority to detain
immigration violators, known as 287(g). The national program has diminished
because the federal government is refusing to endorse new contracts and renew
existing ones. 

Ms. Villegas’s victory won her a $100,000
settlement, judgment for a visa, and permission to work in the U.S. Her
lawyers, including Sherrard & Row law firm, will be $390,000 richer. Ms.
Villegas can comfortably support her four American citizen children and
continue to live in Nashville. The judge said the visa was in order because of
the violation of Ms. Villegas’s civil rights. The only issue excluded from the
settlement is the breast pump negligence.

The renouncement of immigration program 287(g)
and Ms. Villegas’s settlement has made Mr. Ozment, Villegas’s lawyer a very
busy man. He is receiving referrals from other states from pregnant immigrants
who have been shackled or restrained during detention. Mr. Ozment asserts, “This
is not a lone problem, this is a systemic problem.”

Karla R. West, a spokeswoman for the Davidson
County Sheriff’s Office, now claims the jail has changed their procedures for
pregnant women. Pregnant inmates are no longer shackled unless they are a
threat of harm to themselves or others.  

Ms. Villegas has expressed her gratitude for the
publicity her case has attracted. If it wasn’t for the horrible ordeal she
suffered through, changes would not have been made to prevent other women from
going through the same experience.  

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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