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Alex Mensing, Communications Strategist
On September 30, 2022, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) published its latest report on the violations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards that persist at Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF). Confirming migrants’ reports of the ongoing violations of ICE detention standards at TCDF, OIG again affirmed that no immigrants should be detained at the facility. OIG reported that the unsanitary conditions, use of force, access to legal services, security lapses, amongst the other violations that persisted at TCDF jeopardized the health and safety of those detained in ICE custody. Given the pattern of abuses and violations at TCDF, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), Innovation Law Lab, Justice for Our Neighbors El Paso (JFON), and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (LAIAC) demand the facility be shut down and the immediate release of all who remain detained there.
On March 16, 2022, the OIG issued an unprecedented alert demanding that ICE immediately stop detaining people at TCDF, citing severe understaffing, unsanitary conditions, and security lapses. ICE vehemently denied the allegations and even accused OIG of staging evidence.
On August 24, 2022, Kesley Vial died while in ICE custody at TCDF due to abuse, neglect, and inhumane conditions. Advocates swiftly responded and noted that Kesley’s death was wholly preventable: ICE, CoreCivic, Torrance County, and their contractors were all responsible for this tragedy.
On August 30, 2022, coalition partners filed a Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) complaint against the ICE El Paso Field Office and TCDF. Citing significant misconduct by ICE and CoreCivic officials, horrific and unlivable conditions of confinement, due process violations, and medical and mental health neglect, advocates renewed their demand for contract termination and release of the remaining men inside the facility.
Instead of taking these complaints seriously, ICE and CoreCivic have dug their heels in, misled the public, refused to address these egregious violations of basic human rights, and retaliated against advocates and the migrants and asylum seekers who bravely submitted testimony in the initial CRCL complaint. In response, on September 28, 2022 over a dozen men wrote an open letter exposing the horrific conditions they have been subjected to, and announced their hunger strike.
Detained asylum seeker, Orlando de los Santos Evangelista, said “we came here to escape the violence, extortion, death and injustices that we have suffered in our countries. But what we found was prison, mistreatment and humiliation […] there is no respect for human dignity at Torrance County Detention Facility or in the immigration process in New Mexico. For these reasons we continue our hunger strike and will continue to do so until Torrance County Detention Facility is shut down and we are all freed.”
Yesterday, September 29, advocates submitted a supplemental complaint to the CRCL office, documenting the deterioration of conditions at TCDF, retaliation and intimidation of migrants and asylum seekers, and attempts to interfere with attorney-client visitation. Direct testimonies from detained migrants and asylum seekers include clogged toilets, leaking sewage, bug infestations, lack of access to clean drinking water, prolonged detention, and denial of basic human dignity.
The flagrant human rights violations at TCDF have persisted for far too long. In the wake of the most recent OIG report confirming the continuation of these violations and recommending that no immigrants be detained at TCDF, advocates call on the Department of Homeland Security to shut down TCDF and immediately release migrants and asylum seekers to their loved ones in the United States.
Sophia Genovese, Senior Attorney/EJW Disaster Resilience Fellow for NMILC says: “The time to shut down Torrance is now. The latest OIG report and the direct testimonies submitted by detained migrants and asylum seekers makes clear that ICE and CoreCivic have done nothing to address the unlivable conditions at Torrance since advocates initially raised concerns. Instead, ICE and CoreCivic have sought to intimidate migrants and their attorneys in retaliation for speaking out against these abuses. But we will not be silenced. Now more than ever, New Mexicans must come together and demand closure of Torrance once and for all.”
Kristen Bowdre, Executive Director of JFON El Paso says: “ It is unprecedented for OIG to recommend not once, but twice, to close a facility and assert that nobody should be detained there. This report, in addition to what the migrants detained at Torrance have been telling us for months, shows that ICE and CoreCivic are incapable and unwilling to comply with basic standards required to maintain the safety and well being of the people in their custody. The inhumane conditions at Torrance cannot be allowed to continue. It is only a matter of time before another person at this facility dies, and we will not passively wait for this to happen.”
Ian Philabaum, Co-Director of Anticarceral Legal Organizing of Innovation Law Lab says: “The OIG report confirms yet again that ICE and CoreCivic have knowingly kept migrants locked up under abhorrent conditions for years. Not only have a federal agency and private prison company joined forces to systematically violate people’s rights, they are escaping accountability time and time again by obfuscating the truth, lying to the public and to government officials, and brutally retaliating against people in their custody. As a result, someone has already died. The time has come to shut down TCDF once and for all.”
Zoe Bowman, Supervising Attorney of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center says: “To continue to incarcerate people at TCDF, after what we have witnessed and the tragedies that have occurred, is a deep injustice. We must demand that our government shutdown TCDF and immediately stop the inhumane, cruel, and undignified treatment of migrants in ICE custody. ICE and their private contractors have shown that they are willing to retaliate against people who dare to stand up to them and expose what goes on behind prison walls. Together we need to take action to make sure TCDF is permanently closed and the immigrants there are released into the U.S.”