(Content warning: suicide, violence by guards in a carceral setting)
More than a year has passed since the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) called for the immediate removal of all people detained by ICE from the Torrance County Detention Facility.
Since then, advocates and elected officials have joined people detained at Torrance and survivors of the facility in calling repeatedly for the prison to be closed, highlighting conditions even worse than those reported by the OIG. Despite his purported commitment to addressing abuse in ICE detention, DHS Secretary Mayorkas has ignored the crisis at Torrance.
The examples of egregious mistreatment, abuse, neglect and violence at Torrance — beyond the past year alone — are far too many to list here. Below we have described just some of the reports we have received. Due to fear of retaliation by guards, many instances of abuse go unreported and may never be made known to the public.
- In August 2022, a young man named Kesley Vial died by suicide after months detained at the facility. The New York Times reported on his death and the calls for Torrance to be shut down. When Kesley’s friends mounted a hunger strike in protest, CoreCivic guards retaliated against them.
- This isn’t the first time people detained at Torrance have faced retaliation. In 2020, staff attacked people at Torrance with chemical spray after they staged a hunger strike as COVID-19 arrived at the facility.
- In September of 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote Secretary Mayorkas, calling for the end of the ICE contract at Torrance.
- One month later, US Senators from New Mexico and other states joined the call for Secretary Mayorkas to do so.
- In November, another young man, Rafael Oliveira do Nascimento, attempted suicide at Torrance. Just days earlier, Mr. Oliveira had joined nearly every other person detained by ICE at Torrance in signing an open letter describing the mistreatment they faced as “torture” and calling on ICE to stop detaining people there. The letter noted widespread thoughts of self harm and detailed how the facility responds to their deteriorating mental health by locking them alone and “practically naked” in a cold, dark cell. “In order to get out of the hole,” the letter read, “we have to lie and say that the thoughts of self harm have passed. We have to say that we have recovered, when in reality we leave worse than when we entered.”
- In December, with just a few people left detained by ICE at Torrance, Secretary Mayorkas’s agency decided that, instead of ending ICE detention in the facility, they would send hundreds of people seeking asylum to Torrance.
- After ICE repopulated Torrance, people detained there reported a complete absence of privacy during their asylum interviews as well as being cut off by officials while they tried to tell their stories of surviving horrific trauma. Most were rapidly ordered deported.
- On January 27th, 2023, dozens of detained people staged a hunger strike in protest of this denial of due process and other mistreatment. Staff immediately blocked them from communicating with pro bono counsel and retaliated by isolating alleged leaders.
- The next day, yet another person (who preferred to remain anonymous due to fear, so we’ll refer to them as F-) attempted suicide at Torrance. F- and so many others were and continue to be desperate after being denied a real chance to speak to immigration officials about their asylum claims.
- In February, 115 men detained at at Torrance signed a letter calling on Secretary Mayorkas to close the facility and for Congress to investigate “expedited removal at Torrance, medical abuse, the use of torture rooms for those who admit thoughts of suicide, and retaliation by CoreCivic against persons who denounce conditions and injustices.” Their testimony and that of others contributed to a summary report of such systemic abuse at the facility.
- The Hill subsequently reported how abuses have continued and even worsened at Torrance despite Secretary Mayorkas’s 2021 statement against “mistreatment” and “substandard conditions” and despite the 2022 OIG Management Alert about Torrance.
- As DHS and CoreCivic continue to maintain conditions that lead to suicide attempts at Torrance and retaliate against those speaking out, people inside continue to report violence at the hands of guards. In February Erick Zelaya was beaten up by a guard after he and others spoke out against being locked up in cells for “count” for an extra hour or more.
- In March, once again someone detained by ICE at Torrance attempted suicide. His name is Jose. In response, CoreCivic staff locked Jose alone in the “cold room.” It was the second time he had attempted suicide within two months at the facility.
- Also in March, Claudio Gonzalez reported to Law Lab that a guard had intentionally slammed a cell door on his hand. Facility medical staff told him repeatedly that they didn’t have adequate equipment to address the injury. An ICE officer denied that the assault took place.
- In April, W. (who prefers not to use his full name due to fear) reported that he was denied medical attention despite making multiple requests amid ongoing pain and complications due to a hernia exacerbated while working in the facility’s kitchen. When he asked a guard for help, she told him she didn’t care and her job was to provide security. W. explained in a declaration: “When I got here, I weighed 210 pounds, and now, three months later, I weigh 175. I am anxious and cry frequently. I have trouble eating and trouble sleeping.”
- Through early April, DHS has provided no indication that they will halt deportations of dozens of individuals who have been denied an opportunity to meaningfully communicate their fear of return to their home countries and are instead compelled to participate in fear interviews under abhorrent detention conditions that include rampant medical, physical, and psychological abuse.
What will it take for DHS Secretary Mayorkas to end the ICE contract at Torrance? There may be no number of suicide attempts, retaliatory solitary lockups, summary deportations, and attacks by guards that can convince Mayorkas to put an end to this torture. After all, if the detention and deportation system is supposed to deter people from seeking asylum in the US, then the cruelty is the point.
Despite widespread retaliation by staff at Torrance, many continue to speak out about abuse. They’re stunned at the cruelty they experience every day. They want to be heard, and they want the violence to stop.
Stand in solidarity with the people currently and formerly detained at Torrance by joining their call to end the ICE contract, shut the place down, and invest the millions currently spent on caging people into healthy community programs.