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 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.
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.
Citing $1 million a day of wasted federal dollars, the American Civil Liberties Union called on President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday to close 39 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities across the U.S., including the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral. The federal government has been paying for the empty bed spaces at these facilities, almost all run by privately-owned companies, which the ACLU called “wasting” taxpayer money. The ACLU established a criteria for the 39 facilities it is calling on the federal government to close. In its statement, issued Wednesday, the ACLU said that Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) was included because of its “extensive record of civil rights violations and inhumane treatment.”
The letter, sent to The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urged the secretary to announce his intention to close ICE detention facilities across the country. “With lower ICE arrest rates and already reduced levels of detention arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE is currently paying to maintain thousands of empty beds at enormous taxpayer expense—wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better spent on alternatives to detention and other programmatic priorities,” the letter states.
When the state Department of Health reported a two-day spike in COVID-19 at Cibola County Correctional Center late last month, activists and lawyers who work with detained migrants didn’t know how many had tested positive. The Milan facility, run by a private company called CoreCivic, also houses federal prisoners under U.S. Marshals Service, as well as county prisoners. “We have one of the largest immigration detention systems in the world,” said Rebekah Entralgo, media advocacy specialist for the California organization Freedom for Immigrants which works with detainees. And she said by phone that the private companies that run detention centers “thrive off secrecy.”
Allegra Love, executive director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which provides free legal services to immigrants, said her impression is that the migrant population at the Cibola facility is “low.”
“That information is almost impossible to get and CoreCivic isn’t compelled to tell us daily count numbers,” Love said. New Mexico’s congressional delegation sent a letter to CoreCivic last week because of the recent spike in COVID-19 at the multi-use detention center.
ESTANCIA, N.M. – The migrants were on a days-long hunger strike when guards entered their prison dormitory in full riot gear —gas masks, shields and canisters of pepper spray. The officers corralled the two dozen or so inmates into a huddled mass. Two men fell to their knees, begging them not to attack. “Suddenly, they just started gassing us,” said Yandy Bacallao, a 34-year-old asylum seeker from Cuba. “You could just hear everyone screaming for help.”
The New Mexico Department of Health announced 147 additional cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths. The majority of the new cases came from McKinley and San Juan counties, the two hardest hit areas of the state, both of which had the most number of cases in several days. DOH also reported six additional cases among those held by federal agencies at the Torrance County Detention Facility. The state has now processed over 300,000 COVID-19 cases since March, and has the fourth-most tests per capita of any state. With the new cases, DOH has now found 10,838 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 476 total deaths related to the disease.