Settlement for a Shackled Pregnant Woman

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Correction Appended

A detained Mexican woman who had been shackled to her hospital bed while giving birth in Nashville will receive $490,000 in a settlement and also has the prospect of a resident visa.

The monetary settlement, which was approved on Tuesday by the council governing Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., closes a five-year legal battle that began when the woman, Juana Villegas, was arrested in July 2008 after a traffic stop in a Nashville suburb.

And in an unusual move, a federal judge has urged immigration authorities to give Ms. Villegas a special visa that is generally offered to crime victims. The judge said the visa was in order because of the violation of Ms. Villegas's civil rights. His finding created a new legal basis for the victims' visa, said Elliott Ozment, a lawyer who represented Ms. Villegas.

Ms. Villegas, who was nine months pregnant when she was arrested, was in the country illegally. She was detained for six days because of an agreement between Davidson County and federal authorities that gave immigration enforcement powers to sheriffs' officers.

As a result of that program, jail officers decided to hold her after learning that Ms. Villegas, who has been living in the United States since 1996, had once been deported.

Soon after Ms. Villegas gave birth, she was returned to the jail without her newborn son. A hospital nurse gave her a breast pump, but she was not allowed to take it into the jail and developed a painful breast infection.

In 2011 a federal judge in Tennessee, William J. Haynes Jr., ruled in Ms. Villegas's favor, finding that jail officers had shown "deliberate indifference" to her medical needs by cuffing her ankle to her hospital bed through most of her labor and during recovery. Nashville appealed, and a dispute over the amount of the damages was winding through the court when city officials decided this year to settle. Much has changed in Nashville since Ms. Villegas's arrest. In September 2008, the Davidson County sheriff issued a new policy ending the shackling of pregnant women in detention.

"We do not restrain pregnant inmates at any time unless they are threatening harm to themselves or to others," said Karla R. West, a spokeswoman for the Davidson County Sheriff's Office.

Last year, Davidson County officials decided not to renew their federal immigration enforcement agreement. After intense criticism by immigrant advocate groups of the program, known as 287(g), the Obama administration has reduced it nationwide, declining to sign new agreements or renew existing ones.

She will receive $100,000 from the settlement, and her lawyers, including the Sherrard & Roe law firm, will receive $390,000. Ms. Villegas, who continues to live in Nashville and has four children, all American citizens, was authorized to work legally as the case progressed. Judge Haynes has called for her to get the visa as well.

Mr. Ozment said he continues to receive cases from other states of pregnant immigrants who have been shackled or restrained during detention. "This is not a lone problem, this is a systemic problem," Mr. Ozment said. The issue of the breast pump was not resolved in the settlement.

Ms. Villegas, speaking by telephone on Thursday, said she was ultimately glad for the publicity surrounding her case.

"If my case had not become public, the sheriff would not have made any changes," Ms. Villegas said. "I'm glad other women who go to the jail here will not suffer what I went through."

Correction: October 17, 2013, Thursday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the type of visa a judge recommended Juana Villegas receive. The visa can lead to permanent resident status; it is not yet a permanent visa.

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times. First Published October 18, 2013 2:00 PM


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