The woman who gave birth while in the custody of the Davidson County sheriff’s office is facing deportation next month and is suing the Department of Homeland Security for copies of her immigration records so she can fight the case.
Juana Villegas filed her complaint in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Tennessee on Tuesday seeking access to her immigration records, which she claims are not being turned over to her attorney Elliot Ozment.
Villegas was told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this month that she would be facing deportation at her next scheduled meeting, which is March 11, according to the court filing.
The complaint states that in order for Ozment to effectively represent Villegas on her pending deportation, it is essential he receive a complete copy of her immigration file. The original request was made to ICE in August of last year and still has not been answered, according to the complaint.
In the meantime, Ozment said he is in negotiations with ICE on how to resolve Villegas’s case. Ozment believes Villegas was tortured and unlawfully restrained by the sheriff’s office while she was in custody over the July 4 holiday weekend last year.
“We are presently negotiating with ICE about a resolution to all of this,” Ozment said. “I’m not permitted to go into the details of that at this time. But we’re hoping that people will review the circumstances of this case and come to a resolution that will be a win-win for everybody. The fact of the matter is that Ms. Villegas is a victim of what I consider to be torture.”
Still, Ozment called the possibility Villegas could be deported next month “very real” and said he needs access to all her immigration files in order to represent her.
Last summer, Villegas was pulled over for a traffic stop in Berry Hill while she was nine months pregnant. Berry Hill Sergeant Tim Coleman elected to arrest Villegas instead of issuing her a citation because he said she did not show a proper form of identification — a claim Villegas’s attorney disputes.
Villegas was transferred to the county jail, where the sheriff’s office checked her immigration status as part of its controversial 287(g) agreement with ICE. The program has been vocally championed by Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall. The check showed Villegas was an illegal Mexican immigrant, who had already been deported in the 1990s.
While she was in custody, Villegas went into labor and was transferred to General Hospital, where she ultimately gave birth. During her stay in the hospital, Villegas was shackled to her delivery bed during labor and after the birth.
Her treatment sparked outrage by immigrant advocacy groups in Nashville and eventually led to the sheriff’s office changing its policy on handling women who go into labor while in custody.
As it turns out, the traffic violation for which Villegas was initially stopped was ultimately dismissed in Berry Hill Municipal Court, because the judge said Coleman did not fill out the ticket information properly.
Villegas is the mother of four children, all of whom are America citizens.
Advocates say 287(g) is unjust because it can lead to the deportation of immigrants who have committed a minor traffic offense, or in the case of Villegas, are ultimately innocent of their original charge.