Four men detained at the Torrance County Detention Facility are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over allegedly certifying an inaccurate inspection by a government contractor which they say allowed ICE to evade federal law and continue to detain immigrants at the facility despite known ongoing violations.
The four men who, to protect their identities while they are detained are suing, under pseudonyms, are Carlos Doe, Luis Doe, Ernesto Doe and Gabriel Doe. All four are Venezuelans who are seeking asylum in the U.S. and have been detained for more than a month at Torrance County Detention Facility. All four allege inhumane abuse and neglect.
The lawsuit seeks to have ICE stop detaining migrants at the Torrance facility. ICE did not immediately comment.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2022, the Torrance facility received what the Venezuelans’ lawyers call a “sham” inspection by a government contractor. The inspection, allegedly “deeply flawed” and “lax” of the facility took place within two weeks of an alert sent by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. The OIG alerted ICE that all detainees should be relocated due to what the OIG reported as inhumane conditions and detailed several issues including inoperable sinks and toilets, critical staffing shortages and mold.
According to the lawsuit, the “lax” inspection by the government contractor enabled Torrance County Detention Facility to pass inspection and that enabled ICE to avoid the U.S. Congress’ “Two Strikes Mandate.” In 2021 Torrance County Detention Facility failed its performance evaluation and if it failed in March 2022, it would have to discontinue use and relocate all detainees housed within the facility, according to the lawsuit.
Torrance County Detention Facility has also been under scrutiny after the death by suicide of a detained asylum seeker named Kesley Vial in August 2022. In the subsequent months, several asylum seekers detained at TCDF held alleged hunger strikes to protest inhumane treatment and conditions.
All four of the Venezuelan men who filed the suit on Friday allege inhumane conditions which they have experienced personally while being housed in the detention center. Carlos, who is 32, reported that he has been in medical isolation at TCDF for more than a month and a half. He has reportedly had to go without adequate access to drinking water, despite asking for it. Until a medical professional intervened, Carlos allegedly also had to go without a shower, telephone calls or outside recreation time.
Luis, 26, reported being held at TCDF for more than a month and a half. He had been served spoiled or still frozen food, experienced clogged toilets and broken showers, has not received payment for work he conducted cleaning in his unit and has experienced medical delay, according to the suit.
Ernesto, 42, reported being held at TCDF for more than two months. He has gone hungry and cold, lacks clean bedsheets, does not feel safe and feels pressured by guards to clean TCDF, at times without pay, the lawsuit states. He believes an infected tooth was not fully removed and that he had to wait two weeks for dental care for the infected tooth, according to the lawsuit.
Gabriel, 40, reported that he has been held at TCDF for more than a month and a half and alleges that he is often thirsty due to lack of drinking water provided. Gabriel also reported insufficient and undercooked food, as well as cold showers and a lack of working showers and unclean bed sheets. Gabriel also alleges that the guards have treated him as “less than human.”
Rebecca Schiff, American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico senior staff attorney, called the plaintiffs “courageous for speaking up about the egregious conditions they are experiencing and the callous disregard at Torrance for their basic safety and wellbeing,” in an email to NM Political Report.
“They wholly expect that ICE and Torrance’s operator will refrain from any retaliation on detained individuals, individually or collectively, in relation to this lawsuit,” she said.
Tess Hellgren, director of legal advocacy for Innovation Law Lab, told NM Political Report in an email that if any of the plaintiffs are deported by ICE, they are “each committed to continue as plaintiffs in this lawsuit in order to continue to call for the termination of ICE’s contract for TCDF in solidarity with all those who are currently detained at TCDF or could be in the future.”
“The plaintiffs in this case are courageously speaking up about the egregious conditions they are experiencing and the callous disregard at TCDF for their basic safety and wellbeing, despite a history of retaliation at TCDF. They have requested to use pseudonyms for their safety and the safety of their family members, considering their pending claims for protection,” Hellgren said.