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Alex Mensing, Communications Strategist
The following press release mentions suicide. If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering self-harm or suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or at 988.
Estancia, NM – A new report describes deeply troubling developments in the ongoing uncovering of negligent and abusive conditions at Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF), a privately operated New Mexico prison that detains people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is already under intense scrutiny by federal oversight agencies and members of Congress. The report details the use of solitary confinement for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation in cells they describe as “Torture Rooms;” widespread sleep deprivation due to uninhabitable conditions; another attempted suicide in January, 2023; and patterns of retaliation against individuals who speak out or engage in civil disobedience. The immigrant rights group Innovation Law Lab prepared the report in collaboration with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and people seeking asylum while detained at the facility.
Hundreds of individual interviews and group discussions since the start of 2023 form the basis of the report’s findings and paint a disturbing picture of misconduct by US Government officials and CoreCivic employees charged with managing the facility’s day-to-day operations. In one instance, a detained man who had spoken to rights groups about conditions at TCDF was pulled aside and threatened by a high ranking CoreCivic officer who told him he would soon see just how little power immigrants like him have. In other instances, men who declined meals in an act of civil disobedience were charged with inciting riots, threatened with accelerated deportations, and isolated as punishment.
The report also describes how CoreCivic, ICE and the Houston Asylum Office have undermined legal due process by failing to implement fundamental procedural safeguards for people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum while detained at TCDF. For instance, people detained at Torrance are compelled to conduct their asylum screening interviews by phone in a room with eight other people, all of whom overhear one another as they are asked to share the often sensitive details of their asylum claims. One man described easily overhearing another as he attempted to whisper details of his asylum claim to an Asylum Officers by phone, including the sexual violence he had survived and the reason he understood himself to have been targeted.
This report comes after 2022 saw widely-documented abuses and retaliation by staff, self-harm and suicide by desperate detained migrants, and successive calls for an end to the ICE contract at the facility. Many of the conditions described in the report, including the leaking pipes in cells that have led to soaked bedding and contributed to widespread sleep deprivation, were documented nearly one year ago in a management alert published by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General (DHS OIG).
In a letter signed recently by 115 men detained at Torrance, the men called on DHS Secretary Mayorkas to close the detention center and called on Congress:
“to investigate the administration of Expedited Removal at TCDF, the ongoing medical abuse and the use of ‘torture rooms’ as punishment for people who report suicidal thoughts, and retaliation by CoreCivic against people who speak out about conditions at TCDF, including the disappearance of those of us who speak out and the blocking of our phone calls to family, friends and legal advocates on the outside.” The men, who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum in the United States, went on to ask that “DHS revoke our removal orders and offer us the opportunity to continue our court cases in front of a judge, in freedom, with the support of our families.”
Ariel Prado, Co-Director of Innovation Law Lab’s Anticarceral Legal Organizing program and co-author of this report made the following statement:
“Each day that TCDF remains in operation is a decision made by Secretary Mayorkas to value political expediency over human lives. We are hoping against hope that he will eventually heed the people at Torrance who are struggling to survive his decisions.”
You can read the full report here or below.
Innovation Law Lab leverages law, technology and organizing to end isolation and exploitation of immigrants and refugees, build permanent pathways to immigrant inclusion, and advance justice.
The New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC) advances justice and equity by empowering low-income immigrant communities through collaborative legal services, advocacy, and education.
Santa Fe Dreamers Project provides free legal services to immigrants to promote economic empowerment, community development, family unity, and liberation from detention.
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center provides high-quality legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees in West Texas and New Mexico and advocates for human rights.
Below, you can see the original letter signed recently by 115 men detained at Torrance: