On Thurday a jury awarded Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant, $200,000 in her civil case against the joint government of Nashville and Davidson County. Her suit alleged that county sheriff’s deputies violated her rights when they shackled her through the end of her pregnancy, while in labor and even during her recovery after giving birth.
Her attorney, Elliott Ozment, intends to ask the judge who oversaw the case to grant Villegas (a Mexican national) a U-visa, a special status that can be given to illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes in this country. This would allow her to live and work legally in the U.S. for three years with a possibility of renewing for another three years, with the hopes of upgrading her status to that of a full citizen at some point during those years.
The U-visa is unlikely to be awarded in this way–it has only been awarded by a federal judge once before (they are usually conferred by other immigration authorities).
Ozment said “We think the level of misconduct has risen to such a high level that she deserves a U-visa for what she suffered.”
Villegas was arrested for driving without a license on July 3, 2008, when she was nine months pregnant. She was identified as an illegal immigrant and taken to a detention center, where she went into labor two days later.
Court documents say Villegas was then taken to Nashville General Hospital where she was placed on a gurney with shackles still on her hands and feet. In her hospital room, Davidson County sheriff’s deputies refused to leave the room while she changed into her hospital gown, and wouldn’t allow her to tell her husband about her labor, according to court documents.
In what the medical staff called a “barbaric” violation of medical standards, one of the deputies shackled her left foot and right hand to the hospital bed. Although the shackles were removed before she delivered the baby, they were put on again by a third deputy (against doctor’s orders) after Villegas delivered the baby, court records say.
U.S. District Judge William Haynes ruled in favor of Villegas this April, and after a three-day trial this week, the jury set the award at $200,000 award (rather than the $1.2 million Villegas’ lawyers asked for). Villegas also sued the U.S. government for wrongful arrest, but that lawsuit was dismissed.
Villegas had been deported from San Diego and returned illegally into the United States years ago, according to her lawyer. Her eldest son was 14 at the time of her arrest, and he had been born in the United States.