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Albuquerque, N.M. — Immigrant rights groups report that between December 23 and January 3, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transferred approximately 100 individuals to Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF), an immigration detention center notorious for dangerous conditions and abuse. Prior to the recent transfers, the number of people held in ICE custody at the detention center had dropped to just six. There have been frequent calls for permanently terminating the ICE contract for TCDF, including from New Mexico’s Senators and Congressional representatives. Despite the low population, due to a guaranteed minimum in the contract between ICE and Torrance County, the facility’s private prison operator, CoreCivic, was still being paid nearly $2 million in federal dollars every month.

ICE detention at TCDF has caused a worsening mental health crisis; one person died in custody in August and this crisis has threatened that of many others. People detained at TCDF have described the mistreatment they face at facility as “torture,” while human rights advocates, mental health experts, members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General have all documented serious violations at TCDF and called on ICE to stop holding immigrants there. Internal ICE and CoreCivic records obtained by the immigrant rights organization Innovation Law Lab through FOIA litigation have further confirmed the dangerous conditions at the facility.

In an open letter, a group of 10 individuals detained at TCDF in December wrote that “the conditions that we’re living through are terrible; it’s torture.” The group, which called themselves “Los Últimos Guerreros,” or The Last Warriors, ended their letter calling on ICE not to transfer anyone else to the facility:

“We’ve heard that ICE plans to transfer 100 people here in December and January. It’s incredibly important that this not happen, considering the facts that we have detailed here. Every day we fight to keep hope that very soon we will be out of this jail with the help of God. We want to be free. Thank you for listening to these words, and God bless you.”

Victor, survivor of Torrance County Detention Facility, said: “I am saddened by this announcement because ICE continues to deprive people of their liberty who come seeking protection or who come to reunite with their families. When we decide to seek refuge in the US, we imagine that they will help us, and that they will treat us well. And above all, that we will be protected from the people who want to harm us in our countries. But the reality for many of us immigrants is different. I was deprived of my freedom for almost 8 months at Torrance and every day I asked myself why they did this to us. Every day my compañeros and I shed tears because we did not understand why we had to go through such a hard process of being locked up in a jail. We became mentally ill because of what it means to be locked up there at Torrance. Let’s hope that one day this will change.”

Ian Philabaum, co-director of Anticarceral Legal Organizing at Innovation Law Lab, said:

“The Biden administration should be ending this nightmare by terminating the ICE contract with Torrance, not sending more people to be tortured there. Conditions at Torrance have deteriorated demonstrably since the unprecedented OIG alert that recommended immediately halting use of the facility. One person died, there have been multiple self-harm attempts and people continue to end up on suicide watch. Access to legal counsel continues to be seriously hampered, dramatically increasing people’s likelihood of being deported to their deaths. How many more people have to be harmed before ICE stops torturing people in Torrance?

Sophia Genovese, Senior Attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, said: “The decision to continue detaining migrants and asylum seekers at Torrance is wildly irresponsible in light of the multiple suicide attempts and reports of rampant abuse and neglect over the past several months. Let us be clear: people will continue to suffer or die because of the situation they face at this horrific facility. We urgently call on the Biden administration to make good on its promise to close dangerous facilities and put an end to this suffering.” 

Emma O’Sullivan, Executive Director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, said:

“It’s been almost a year since DHS’s own Office of the Inspector General called for the “immediate removal” of all detainees from Torrance due to the horrifying conditions at the facility. The fact that ICE is still actively sending more individuals to Torrance despite the well-documented, life-threatening conditions is a serious cause for alarm, showing a reckless and callous indifference to the human lives at stake. We urge ICE to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of all individuals in its custody, first and most urgently by ceasing new transfers to Torrance, immediately releasing all individuals held there and terminating all associations with the facility.”

Luis Suarez, Field Advocacy Manager of Detention Watch Network, said:

“The Torrance County Detention Facility exemplifies everything that is wrong with immigration detention and why the detention system must be abolished in its entirety. The Biden Administration should be ashamed that Torrance remains open despite a well-documented record of abuse. People’s lives are at risk in immigration detention – full stop. The Biden Administration must reverse course by releasing people from detention, not transferring them to other detention facilities.”

Jannette  Mondragón, Staff Attorney at Justice for Our Neighbors El Paso (JFON), said:

“For ICE to knowingly send 100 more individuals to Torrance County Detention Facility after all the testimony, records, investigations and evidence compiled exposing the horrendous and inhumane conditions of this facility is unconscionable. It is unacceptable to allow the continued violation of human and civil rights of these individuals who are simply seeking asylum and safety in the United States. The ICE contract at Torrance must be canceled and everyone detained there should be released.”  

Rebecca Sheff, Senior Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, said;

“People detained inside the Torrance County Detention Facility have long documented inhumane and unsafe conditions, and what they’ve reported has been backed up by the government’s own watchdog. For ICE to knowingly send more people into harm’s way — in defiance of calls by New Mexico’s Congressional delegation for contract termination — shocks the conscience and shows yet again that ICE can’t be trusted to act in the best interest of the people in its custody.”

Felipe Rodriguez, Co-director of the the New Mexico Dream Team, said:

“We must put an end to the evil practice of exploiting the bodies of our people and criminalizing our neighborhoods for profit. These businesses have forced New Mexicans into unsafe, dangerous, and cruel jobs for far too long. I speak for my entire community when I say that the abuses coming from private prisons must end right away. Instead of sending additional people to Torrance to be detained, the Biden administration should create pathways for human asylum and shutdown TCDF.” 

Zoe Bowman, Supervising  Attorney at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, said: 

“By repopulating Torrance, the Biden Administration has shown a cruel disregard for human life. Reports from advocates and the government’s own watchdog agencies have shown that Torrance is not equipped to care for people in its custody. This has had disastrous consequences in the past year, and such incidents will inevitably continue unless the facility is shut down.”