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Alex Mensing, Communications Strategist
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ESTANCIA, NM – On behalf of Innovation Law Lab, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico last week filed records requests under the federal Freedom of Information Act and New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act regarding the operation, conditions and inspections of the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF). [FOIA request here, IPRA request here.]

TCDF, in Estancia, detains individuals on behalf of Torrance County, the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It is owned and operated by CoreCivic, one of the largest private, for-profit prison companies in the country. The facility has a long, well-documented history of abuse and inhumane treatment, including a chemical attack against detained people engaged in a peaceful hunger strike. 

TCDF failed its notoriously lax annual internal ICE inspection on July 29, 2021, with The Nakamoto Group inspectors identifying unhygienic conditions, multiple food service violations and repeated staff training deficiencies. On March 16, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a management alert calling on ICE to immediately remove all people detained at TCDF due to dangerous and substandard conditions such as mold, broken toilets and staffing shortages.

Despite these repeated violations, on April 22 the news organization SourceNM reported that ICE had transferred 111 people into the dangerous TCDF. On March 31, TCDF passed a Nakamoto Group inspection despite finding ongoing staff vacancies remain a serious issue.

Ian Philabaum, Co-Director of Anticarceral Legal Organizing at Innovation Law Lab, issued the following statement:

“The information we are seeking is a matter of life or death for the people detained at the Torrance County Detention Facility. There is already a long, tragic history of unjust deaths in immigration detention centers throughout the United States due to terrible conditions. The horrors described in TCDF by the government’s own internal oversight agency pale in comparison to what the people held there describe to us. In fact, we know from experience and from careful analysis that the entire DHS oversight system is fundamentally performative and exists only to create the illusion of accountability. The only way to find out what is really going on in Torrance is to demand full transparency, which is what these records requests are about. Ultimately, ICE custody is designed to harm, disappear and torture people, and we call for a complete end to immigration detention at Torrance and everywhere.”

Rebecca Sheff, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico, issued the following statement:

“ICE and CoreCivic have repeatedly proved they cannot be trusted to act in a transparent way that protects the well-being of the people in their custody, exemplified by their decision to ignore the OIG’s report and instead double down and transfer in new people. The most recent Nakamoto Group inspection is a blatant effort to whitewash conditions at the facility, but we know from ongoing conversations with people inside that problems like broken plumbing, lack of access to safe drinking water and critical understaffing remain. That is why we’ve had to turn to public records requests to urgently shed light on this dangerous situation.”