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.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this month to expand equality for LGBTQIA+ individuals. The order is sweeping and involves several different federal agencies. It says that while the U.S. has advanced LGBTQIA+ rights in significant ways, much still needs to be done, particularly for transgender individuals and LGBTQIA+ individuals of color. Marshall Martinez, executive director of Equality New Mexico, said this is the “first time a sitting president has made such clear statements about queer and trans people.”
“It’s definitely a refreshing break from what we’ve been hearing and seeing so much of,” Martinez said. There has been an uptick of anti-trans bills introduced into state legislatures in recent years, according to LGTBQIA+ advocates.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has transported a group of Haitian asylum seekers to the Torrance County Detention Facility and are not allowing the asylum seekers their due process rights, legal immigration experts have said. In addition, the asylum seekers at the Torrance County facility could have witnessed U.S. Border Patrol on horseback with whips confronting Haitian migrants outside of Del Ray, Texas, in September, Allegra Love, an attorney who works with migrants, told NM Political Report. Love said that all the people currently held in immigration detention should be “released today.”
“All of this is unnecessary,” she said. Love said that in addition to the asylum seekers’ due process rights being violated, the U.S. is violating their human rights and the U.S. is in violation of international law in the way it is handling asylum seekers. An ICE spokesperson said that ICE provides access to counsel.
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.
Nicole Martin, a sex education developer and co-founder of the grassroots reproductive rights organization Indigenous Women Rising (IWR), called forced hysterectomies reported by a whistleblower in a migrant detention facility in Georgia a crime against humanity. Martin, of Laguna Pueblo and Diné (Navajo Nation), likened the forced hysterectomies as “directly linked to genocide and colonization and white supremacy.” She said the forced hysterectomies make it impossible for migrant people to reproduce and “bring in more generations.”
“Their whole sense of being is stripped away from them. I can’t imagine how the people detained right now, how they’re coping or functioning or making it day by day. My heart really hurts for them. I can’t believe this is the world we’re living in,” Martin told NM Political Report.
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.
Guards in an immigrant detention center in El Paso sexually assaulted and harassed inmates in a “pattern and practice” of abuse, according to a complaint filed by a Texas advocacy group urging the local district attorney and federal prosecutors to conduct a criminal investigation.
The allegations, detailed in a filing first obtained by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, maintain that guards systematically assaulted at least three people in a facility overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — often in areas of the detention center not visible to security cameras. The guards told victims that no one would believe them because footage did not exist and the harassment involved officers as high-ranking as a lieutenant.
Since March, the Trump administration has pushed thousands of migrant children back to their home countries without legal screenings or protection, citing the risk that they could be carrying COVID-19 into the United States.
But by the time the children are boarded on planes home, they’ve already been tested for the virus — and proven not to have it.