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Alex Mensing, Communications Strategist
Since late December 2022, ICE has transferred nearly four hundred migrants and asylum seekers into the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) in Estancia, New Mexico. The move by the Biden administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) comes after the facility reached nearly zero individuals detained by ICE amid widely-documented abuses and retaliation by staff, self-harm by desperate detained migrants, and successive calls for an end to the ICE contract at Torrance. Now many dozens of men detained at TCDF have reported systematic violations of their right to seek asylum and an unjust process designed to deport them as rapidly as possible. We demand that DHS immediately allow the asylum seekers at TCDF meaningful access to due process and the asylum system.
People fleeing danger who enter through the southern border and are apprehended by immigration authorities have a legal right to seek asylum. Asylum seekers are typically subjected to a credible fear screening process, wherein a U.S. asylum officer must determine whether the person demonstrates prima facie eligibility for asylum in order for them to be allowed to file an application for asylum. For people detained at TCDF, their Credible Fear Interviews (CFI) are conducted by the Houston Asylum Office by telephone. The Houston Asylum Office has a history of continually failing to follow CFI regulatory requirements, and erroneously rejecting bona fide asylum claims of thousands of people. These problems persist to this day and are now directly impacting the asylum seekers detained at TCDF at rates never seen before.
Even for the Houston Asylum Office, which has been shown to reject bona fide asylum claims, the most recently recorded grant rates are 56%. By contrast, in the month of January 2023 at TCDF, at least 118 asylum seekers have received negative fear determinations, compared to only 16 positive determinations – a grant rate of just 13%. The asylum seekers who have received negative fear determinations have reported that their interviews last less than one hour, which is insufficient time to investigate potential asylum claims, which can be complex. The asylum seekers also report that they are asked exceedingly limited yes or no questions and are not permitted to articulate their fear of return to their home countries, in violation of CFI requirements. They are not provided a private room during their CFIs, severely limiting their ability to tell their stories. In some instances, CoreCivic guards have confiscated fear interview notes from individuals, which they need to mount their defense.
One person currently detained at TCDF, speaking anonymously in order to protect against retaliation by ICE and CoreCivic, said: “All of this is so unjust. All of us came fleeing our countries. We have a lot of proof, but still we’re considered not credible. We’re not given a real chance to appeal our cases. It’s all unjust.”
Another person detained there, fearing retaliation, anonymously described the process of seeking asylum at TCDF: “The rooms aren’t adequate for an interview — there’s no privacy. The asylum officials interrupt you. With the immigration judge, after not even two minutes they remove you. They don’t give you a chance to speak, to express things.”
Asylum seekers at TCDF have been denied basic due process and the right to seek asylum. And worse, because they have received negative fear determinations, asylum seekers at TCDF will be deported pursuant to expedited removal as early as February 1.
The asylum seekers at TCDF are demanding that DHS take their complaints seriously, rectify these egregious violations of their basic due process rights, and allow them to access the asylum process. Failure to do so would violate the United States’ international obligation of non-refoulement.
Santa Fe Dreamers Project provides free legal services to immigrants to promote economic empowerment, community development, family unity, and liberation from detention. Their work is centered around the belief that supporting immigrants makes our whole community stronger. We are committed to representing every qualified immigrant who walks through their doors, to using service strategies that expand vulnerable peoples’ access to legal counsel, and helping to elevate the voices and narratives of immigrants in our community to support positive reform.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC) advances justice and equity by empowering low-income immigrant communities through collaborative legal services, advocacy, and education.
Innovation Law Lab leverages the law, technology and organizing to end isolation and exploitation of immigrants and refugees, build permanent pathways to immigrant inclusion, and advance justice.
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center provides high-quality legal services to low-income immigrants, and to advocate for human rights.