Immigrants housed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Cibola County Correctional Center have entered into a hunger strike and penned an open letter to protest dangerous conditions and mistreatment, according to a news release. According to the open letter, translated into English, a migrant housed at Cibola attempted suicide in October in response to another migrant who received injury when fainting and not receiving medical attention for four hours after the incident. ICE did not comment, except to send a link to the agency website which provides multiple guidelines to various forms of care of migrants in detention. CoreCivic, which holds a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to operate Cibola County Correctional Center, said it “takes seriously its role and responsibility” and “cares deeply about every person in its care.”
“The situations described in the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center’s recent press release regarding our Cibola County Correctional Center (CCCC) are neither accurate nor reflective of our policies, procedures or values. As of November 16, 2022, there has been no hunger strike at CCCC.
A group of six U.S. Senators, led by Senator Martin Heinrich, signed a letter urging the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate its contract with CoreCivic for its operation of the Torrance County Detention Facility. The Democrats’ letter is in response to the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General follow-up report in September that ICE had not fully addressed 10 of the 14 OIG recommendations to improve conditions at the facility. The OIG report recommended the detainees be relocated from the facility. This is the second time this year the OIG has made that recommendation. In March, the OIG released its initial report, based on a surprise visit in February, recommending the immediate relocation of detainees due to “inhumane” conditions.
The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security recommended for a second time this year that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement close Torrance County Detention Facility. The OIG watchdog released the follow-up report the same week that 13 men began a hunger strike inside the facility located in Estancia. A lawyer with New Mexico Immigration Law Center said at least some of the men involved in the hunger strike were deported this week. Orlando de los Santos Evangelista, one of the detainees who told NM Political Report last week that he and the others were engaged in the hunger strike, said he and the others are asylum seekers. He said was fleeing gangs and corrupt police in the Dominican Republic.
A group of 13 detainees announced a hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility to protest “inhumane” conditions. The hunger strike began last Monday, according to Orlando de los Santos Evangelista, an asylum seeker from the Dominican Republic who has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Torrance facility since July. He spoke to NM Political Report by phone through an interpreter provided by Pacific Interpreters, based in California. CoreCivic, the for-profit company that has a contract to operate the facility, and ICE each denied that a hunger strike was taking place.
Both CoreCivic and ICE denied the hunger strike when NM Political Report reached out to them on Thursday. “There were no detainees on a hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility, nor is there a hunger strike occurring today,” wrote Matthew Davio, CoreCivic public affairs manager.
Migrant advocacy organizations are raising questions about a Brazilian man’s apparent death by suicide while in U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement custody. Kesley Vial, a young Brazilian man who sought asylum in the U.S., died on August 24 due to a fatal suicide attempt while housed in the Torrance County Detention Facility on August 17. Several of his friends were the first to respond to Vial, according to Rebecca Sheff, senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. “They [ICE] have the authority to release anyone from this facility, but they’re refusing to grant releases. It’s pretty drastic and refusing releases to first responders who were close friends – they are deeply traumatized and that’s a concern for us,” Sheff said.
The New Mexico Immigration Law Center filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on behalf of a Nicaraguan asylum seeker, Edgar Garrido Diaz, alleging violation of his due process rights, medical neglect and abuse while housed at Cibola County Correctional Center. According to the complaint, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied Garrido Diaz’s due process rights by not providing him with a translator to help him fill out his asylum application, failing to provide him with a translator to file an appeal once denied asylum and by continuing to detain him despite a court order that should have allowed his release while he pursued asylum in the U.S.
An ICE and Department of Homeland Security public affairs officer responded that the agency was working on a response to the allegations but did not respond to NM Political Report by deadline. The complaint also alleges medical neglect because, while Garrido Diaz was detained at the facility run by CoreCivic, officers denied Garrido Diaz medical attention for 24 hours despite the fact that he tested positive for COVID-19 and suffered multiple symptoms.
Matthew Davio, public affairs manager for CoreCivic, denied the medical neglect allegations, saying that the situation described in the complaint is not “accurate nor reflective of our policies, procedures or values.”
“We vehemently deny any allegations of detainee mistreatment. There is a robust grievance process in place should a detainee ever feel that they have been treated unfairly,” he said. The complaint alleges further medical neglect because Garrido Diaz suffered an injury in early July to his knee and ankle and officers did not take him for a medical exam until two weeks later, despite Garrido Diaz’s inability to walk on the leg, the complaint states.
The federal Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Inspector General issued an alert this week to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to recommend that all individuals housed at the Torrance County Detention Facility be relocated due to reportedly unsanitary and unsafe conditions. The 19-page report issued on Wednesday detailed conditions that include a broken toilet containing human waste in a vacant cell in an occupied housing unit, as well as staffing shortages, a lack of hot water access and other issues. Several nonprofit organizations that advocate for the rights of detainees called on ICE to release the individuals housed at Torrance County Detention Facility. The Democrats in New Mexico’s congressional delegation also issued a press release late Friday condemning the “inhumane” conditions and called on President Joe Biden to “act swiftly” to address the reported unsafe conditions. “ICE should no longer defend the inhumane living conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility.
Nine migrants who were detained in Torrance County Detention Facility and a nonprofit called the Santa Fe Dreamers Project are suing the operator of the facility and Torrance County for an alleged incident when guards pepper sprayed the detainees to disrupt a hunger strike last year. The nine individual plaintiffs are asylum seekers, mostly from Cuba and Guatemala. They engaged in a peaceful hunger strike in May 2020 to protest their living conditions, find out more information about their immigrant status and to protest the lack of COVID-19 precautions at the facility, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, violated the individual plaintiffs’ rights to be free from excessive or arbitrary force when the guards sprayed the migrants in a small enclosed space with pepper spray a few days after the migrants began their hunger strike. The lawsuit also alleges Torrance County failed in its duty to care for the people detained in the facility.
A private detention center in southern New Mexico sought to increase the numbers of detainees within its facility after the state declared a public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Management and Training Company (MTC), which operates the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC), sent a letter to Otero County Manager Pam Heltner dated March 31. The letter stated that due to an anticipated “significant decrease,” in migrant detainees, the company would terminate its agreement—but offered a solution. NM Political Report received the letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which obtained it through a Freedom of Information Act request. The letter stated:
“MTC would be happy to explore with you the possibility of partnering with other state or federal agencies to co-locate detainees or inmates at the OCPC in order to increase the overall population at the facility and make MTC’s continued operation of the facility financially viable.”
MTC houses migrants held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In the first week of July, Freddie Sanchez began to feel a hot and cold tingling sensation in his neck and back. He had been imprisoned at Cibola County Correctional Center for two years and lived in a working pod, a unit of about 40 federal inmates who work in food preparation and other jobs at the prison while awaiting trial or sentencing.
Feeling “sicker than heck,” Sanchez asked a guard about getting a COVID-19 test. He said the guard told him he was probably just withdrawing from drugs. “That’s messed up for someone to even say that,” Sanchez said.
The next week, he noticed that one of the other kitchen workers was having trouble breathing. The inmate, who had asthma, confided that he was afraid to let himself fall asleep at night for fear he might not wake up.