Four plaintiffs have filed a class action lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in federal court to challenge the continued use of the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) in Estancia, Mexico, to detain immigrants. The lawsuit argues that ICE arbitrarily and capriciously recertified the facility as meeting detention standards, thus thwarting a federal law that would have required ICE to cancel its contract with the facility.

Carlos Doe has been detained at TCDF since mid-September 2023. He is seeking protection in the United States after the Venezuelan government targeted and threatened him for years because of his political beliefs. Days after being detained at TCDF, Carlos was placed in medical isolation where, for nearly one month, he was denied any access to a shower, telephone calls, or outside recreation time. He once went an entire day where he was denied access to drinking water and has gone several hours without water despite asking for it on many other occasions.

Carlos and his fellow plaintiffs Luis, Ernesto, and Gabriel Doe (proceeding under pseudonym due to fear of retaliation while detained) are seeking to halt the horrendous conditions that they and other immigrants have been subjected to while detained at TCDF. If successful, the lawsuit could compel ICE to stop detaining immigrants at TCDF once and for all.

Congress has mandated that ICE cancel its contract with any immigration detention facility that fails two consecutive overall performance evaluations (the “Two Strikes Mandate”), which measure a facility’s compliance with national immigration detention standards. National immigration detention standards (formally known as the “Performance-Based National Detention Standards”) set minimum standards that detention facilities must adhere to, including for environmental health and safety, personal hygiene, food service, medical care, visitation, and grievances.

In 2021, TCDF failed its overall performance evaluation due to deficiencies including unsafe and unsanitary living conditions, insufficient access to medical care, and chronic understaffing. In March 2022, these conditions persisted to such an extent that the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued an unprecedented management alert calling for the immediate removal of all individuals detained at TCDF from the facility. Despite knowledge of the continuing, atrocious conditions, that same month, ICE recertified TCDF as meeting standards in a second, consecutive performance evaluation. In so doing, ICE thwarted the Congressional “Two Strikes Mandate” that would have required it to stop using TCDF as a detention facility.

Plaintiffs’ collective experiences attest to the continuation of the egregious conditions at TCDF. Since being detained at TCDF, they have been denied sufficient drinking water; given food that was spoiled or still frozen; experienced broken showers and observed clogged toilets and sinks; received severely delayed medical care; and been provided with insufficient bedding and clothing. Their experiences echo those of hundreds more who have spoken out about TCDF, such as in an August 2023 federal oversight complaint.

Carlos, Luis, Ernesto, and Gabriel should never have been detained at TCDF – if ICE had followed the law, TCDF should have failed two consecutive overall performance evaluations and been shut down. Through this lawsuit, plaintiffs seek to represent a class of individuals detained at TCDF and to hold ICE to account for unlawfully continuing its contract with TCDF, including by asking the District Court of New Mexico to enjoin ICE from using federal funds to continue detaining individuals at TCDF.

Innovation Law Lab is representing plaintiffs in this lawsuit, together with the National Immigrant Justice Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP. This lawsuit is a continuation of Innovation Law Lab’s ongoing work to document and raise awareness about the conditions inside TCDF, to support the inside organizing efforts of the individuals detained there, and to identify alternatives to carceral economies.