Four detained asylum seekers sue federal government over alleged conditions

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. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa said through email that “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.”

Pilot program: More than 90% of asylum seekers pass credible fear interview when given help

An immigrant advocacy center found that when their staff were able to provide legal representation or help to immigrants facing credible fear interviews, the immigrant outcomes improved considerably. Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a nonprofit based in El Paso, released a report last week detailing challenges the organization’s staff found and recommendations for change and statistical data on individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. The nonprofit initiated a pilot project over eight weeks in the summer of 2023 in two New Mexico immigration detention facilities: The Torrance County Detention Facility and Otero County Processing Center along with the El Paso Processing Center. The project sought to provide participating asylum seekers legal representation or help in preparation prior to the migrant’s credible fear interview. They found that the participating asylum seekers had a 91.6 percent pass rate at the three facilities. 

A credible fear interview is an important part of the immigration process for asylum seekers, advocates have said. Often, asylum seekers are placed into detention facilities where there is documented abuse before they are allowed a credible fear interview with an immigration judge.

Vasquez announces border legislation

U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez  announced upcoming legislation intended to provide a more humane border policy while also bringing jobs to the region and addressing critical worker shortages in the U.S. 

Vasquez, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District, held a press conference at the border with Mexico in front of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry to announce a package of legislation that he called “common sense” border policy. Vasquez introduced one of the bills last spring. The Bipartisan Farm Workforce Support Act calls on the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on the deficiencies in the H-2A visa program, which is the program that allows migrant farm workers to cross the border to work in the chile fields in southern New Mexico and elsewhere. Vasquez intends to introduce the four other bills in Congress in the near future. The other four include the Humane Accountability Act, which would require a government report on instances of assault, sexual assault and abuse against detainees held by the U.S. government and complaints filed by detainees while in custody.

A suicide attempt and new report emphasize deteriorating mental health conditions at Torrance County Detention Facility

A man detained at Torrance County Detention Facility has attempted suicide in response to his conditions, according to his legal counsel, just as a newly released report details the failures of mental health care at the facility. Since August, three men have reportedly attempted suicide at migrant detention facilities in New Mexico. The first man, Kesley Vial, died by suicide in August at Torrance. Another man housed at the Cibola County Correctional Center attempted suicide in October and survived. Raphael Oliveira do Nascimento, a Brazilian, attempted suicide at the Torrance facility on November 30, Ian Philabaum, codirector of Anticarceral Legal Organizing at Innovation Law Lab, said.

Heinrich, Luján urge ICE to terminate contract with CoreCivic over Torrance County Detention Facility 

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.

DHS Inspector General again recommends closure of Torrance County Detention Facility

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.

Asylum seekers go on hunger strike at Torrance County Detention Facility

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.

Immigrant advocacy organizations seeking answers around Brazilian man’s death by suicide while in ICE custody

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.

CDC announces Trump-era policy prohibiting legal border crossing to end 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the federal government will end the Trump-era policy that has prevented asylum seekers from entering the U.S.

The policy will end May 23. The Trump administration initiated Title 42 in the first few days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The policy prohibited undocumented individuals from entering the U.S. through a port of entry. At the time, Trump cited the spread of the respiratory disease as a reason to establish the policy but critics quickly condemned the action as racist and inflammatory. The Biden administration, which ran on eliminating or reversing many Trump-era policies, kept Title 42 in place after entering office, despite widespread criticism from immigrant advocacy groups.

Lawsuit against alleges civil rights violations by private prison company, Torrance County

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.