Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

A bill to prohibit immigration detention in New Mexico failed a few weeks after an organization issued a report regarding the conditions for a group of detainees who were held at Torrance County Detention Facility. SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, did not pass the Senate during their year’s legislative session. […]

Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

A bill to prohibit immigration detention in New Mexico failed a few weeks after an organization issued a report regarding the conditions for a group of detainees who were held at Torrance County Detention Facility.

SB 145, sponsored by state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, did not pass the Senate during their year’s legislative session. Just a few days before, a nonprofit called Humanitarian Outreach for Migrant Emotional Health issued a report based on interviews with mental health professionals working with HOME had with 10 asylum seekers who were detained at TCDF.

The report found that all the detainees the HOME professionals spoke with reported suicide ideation and a persistent fear of staff, including mental health staff. The HOME report found that the migrants experienced dehumanization, humiliation, aggressive treatment and discrimination. 

The HOME professionals found that many of the individuals they interviewed were certain that they faced death or imprisonment if the U.S. government deports them to their home countries. The HOME professionals also found that the detainees experienced interruptions during their credible fear interviews, heard laughter during the interview, were unable to fully detail their traumatic histories or were placed in an open room and feared providing personal information during the credible fear interview because it could result in harm to family in the home country if overheard.

The detainees also reported they had trouble obtaining drinking water, feared being placed in solitary confinement for disclosing mental health issues and racist treatment by guards. 

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment. A CoreCivic spokesperson said through email that “quite a bit of the reporting about TCDF has been inaccurate and misleading” and that the facility provides detainees with “a variety of services from comprehensive health care to faith-based support and access to legal resources…[and] a safe, humane and appropriate environment…[and] deliver an even better standard of care.”  

CoreCivic also said that the water at TCDF is safe to drink, that the facility “gets its water from the City of Estancia, so it’s exactly the same water used by residents and businesses in the area. Staff and guests of TCDF regularly drink the water…Any claims of the water being undrinkable or not available are demonstrably false,” the spokesperson said by email.

The Senate rejected the bill that would have prohibited intergovernmental contracts between counties and private detention companies. The bill failed on an 18-21 vote with six Democrats in the Senate siding with Republicans to table the bill. Those Senators were Sen. Pete Campos of Las Vegas, Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces, Bobby Gonzales of Ranchos de Taos, Martin Hickey of Albuquerque, George Muñoz of Gallup and Benny Shendo of Jemez.

Sophia Genovese, an attorney with New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, has said that when individuals cross the border, those who are sent to immigrant detention facilities and those who are sent to live with their U.S. sponsors is random but that the impact is significant. 

She previously told NM Political Report that those who are allowed to live with their U.S. sponsors frequently have positive outcomes, partly because they can access due process and seek legal representation. But those who are held in immigrant detention centers experience due process violations and frequently lack attorney representation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told NM Political Report last week that while she is “not a big fan” of immigration detention centers, she said that “we can do more with our congressional leaders to hold folks accountable.”

Reporter Nicole Maxwell contributed to this story.

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