ICE brings more people into Torrance detention center, congresswoman’s staff confirms

Federal oversight officials told ICE to move everyone out of detention there after finding conditions unsafe and unsanitary

By: - April 22, 2022 1:32 pm

Detainee housing unit control room without posted officers (left) and with poor sight lines through barred and dirty windows. (Caption and photos from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General)

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the weekend moved more than 100 people into the Torrance County detention center in Estancia, N.M., according to staff with U.S. Rep. Melaine Stansbury. The transfers into Torrance come less than a month after federal inspectors told ICE to get people out of there because conditions were so bad.

Congresswoman Stansbury’s staff visited Torrance for five hours on Wednesday. According to an official count provided to the congresswoman’s staff, there are 139 ICE detainees at Torrance, including 50 that were transferred on Friday, about 30 that were transferred on Saturday and 31 that were transferred on Tuesday.

“Staff was not able to confirm with the facility the reason behind the transfers,” said Julie Friedmann, a spokesperson for Stansbury.

Update: Wednesday, April 27, 2022 at noon

In a written response on Tuesday, ICE did not answer questions about why the agency transferred more people into Torrance.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is committed to ensuring that all those in the agency’s custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments under appropriate conditions of confinement,” ICE’s Public Affairs Office replied in a written statement. “In general, ICE continues to review immigration detention centers nationally, monitoring the quality of life and treatment of detained individuals among other factors relevant to the continued operation of each facility.”

The transfers appear to be in direct defiance of recommendations in March from the Homeland Security Department’s Office of the Inspector General and federal lawmakers to move people out of the facility. 

New Mexico’s Democratic Congressional delegation called on the Biden administration to swiftly address what federal inspectors called “egregious conditions” at the privately run detention center, operated by CoreCivic. A staffing crisis led to a shortage of guards, and people there are being held in a building beset with mold, leaks and a lack of hot water, according to U.S. inspectors.

“It is clear that CoreCivic continues to fail to meet their responsibilities in managing this facility in a safe and responsible manner,” the lawmakers wrote in March. They called on ICE to get people out of the facility, and to fix the problems quickly. 

ICE’s decision to transfer even more people into the prison is “reckless,” said ACLU of New Mexico Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Sheff, who said it “puts people at immediate risk and proves the agency is not serious about addressing the inhumane conditions at the facility.”

“Instead, ICE is choosing to deliberately go against the OIG recommendations, as well as the demands of our members of Congress and advocates,” Sheff said Friday. “We know from extensive conversation with people detained in Torrance that the decrepit structural issues at the facility, including harmful mold, clogged bathrooms, leaky faucets and much more, remain unresolved.”

ICE’s own internal inspectors, a private company called the Nakamoto Group, inspected the facility between March 29 and March 31 and found that the prison “meets standards,” according to a summary of incidents at the facility obtained by Source New Mexico.

But those Nakamoto reports have been broadly recognized as “essentially a rubber-stamping exercise,” Sheff said previously.

“Cosmetic fixes might’ve been enough for ICE’s notoriously lax internal inspections,” Sheff said. “But the fact remains that this is a dangerous, unhygienic and cruel facility that makes a mockery of our American values and the government’s legal obligations to treat everyone with dignity and humanity.”

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.

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