Immigration detention centers in the United States are notorious for their dehumanizing and abusive conditions. Torrance County Detention Facility (Torrance or TCDF) in Estancia, New Mexico, is no exception. After multiple failed inspections and an alarming “management alert” by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) oversight agency, we sought to find out what was going on inside Torrance. However, ICE is dragging its feet and so far has failed to produce any documents responding to our Freedom of Information Act request. Given the urgent nature of the potentially life-threatening conditions in which immigrants detained at Torrance find themselves, we are suing ICE and calling on the agency to promptly respond to our request for information.

TCDF is run by CoreCivic, one of the largest for-profit private prison companies in the United States. ICE uses the facility to lock up immigrants, which makes Torrance subject to various regulatory requirements and inspections. Despite these requirements, ICE has a well-documented history of failing to ensure safe and humane treatment of those in its custody, which has resulted in extensive human rights abuses, due process violations, and irreparable harm to detained individuals. TCDF failed its annual ICE inspection on July 29, 2021, with inspectors identifying unhygienic conditions, multiple food service violations, and repeated staff training deficiencies.

The DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted an unannounced in-person inspection of TCDF in February to assess the facility’s compliance with detention standards. On March 18, the DHS OIG issued an unprecedented management alert calling on ICE to immediately remove all people detained at TCDF due to dangerous conditions such as mold, broken toilets filled with human feces, inadequate access to drinking water, and severe staffing shortages.

ICE challenged the DHS OIG’s findings and refused to comply with its urgent recommendations. On March 31, TCDF passed a notoriously lax internal inspection despite ongoing staff vacancies remaining a serious issue. After that inspection report was published, ICE moved quickly to transfer more than a hundred additional people into the dangerous TCDF.

On May 3, the ACLU of New Mexico, on our behalf, filed a records request under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The request seeks to provide transparency on ICE’s response to an exceptional and urgent recommendation publicly issued by the DHS OIG.

Due to the urgency of the situation and ICE’s failure to respond to our request, Law Lab filed a complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and the law firm of Coyle & Benoit, PLLC. The motion for a preliminary injunction asks that the court direct ICE to promptly provide the records requested so that we can use them to inform our advocacy and pro bono legal services at TCDF.

We are urgently seeking agency records that relate to ICE’s defiance of the DHS OIG recommendations, as well as any efforts taken by the agency to remedy the dangerous conditions documented by the DHS OIG. We also seek to shed light on ICE’s decision to continue detaining individuals at TCDF.