Complaint says Cibola detention and ICE neglected an asylum-seeker, leaving him injured by shackles

Facing a loss in immigration court, a detainee seeks to share his experience anyway to help others experiencing systemic abuses

By: - August 31, 2022 4:30 am

A detainee boards a plane to be deported. (Public domain photo via ICE)

Deportation seems imminent for a man seeking asylum in the U.S. who is being detained in New Mexico. 

A legal fight was launched in mid-August to get him released or at least delay his case on grounds of medical neglect, physical abuse and due process violations while he’s been held in Cibola County. But the legal team that submitted the complaint is struggling to get anyone to even respond, let alone get him out of detainment.

The Immigrant Law Center submitted a civil rights and civil liberties complaint against the Cibola County detention center and the El Paso Field Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday, Aug. 16 on behalf of Edgar Garrido Diaz. It urges the Department of Homeland Security to release him and investigate his treatment.

Daniela Pino del Pino interpreted the interview and translated a recording with Garrido Diaz from Spanish to English.

The complaint details due process issues through a lack of translation services. It also outlines instances of missing mail and mail delays relating to Garrido Diaz’s asylum application, which was denied. The attorneys also point to an absence of medical treatment for an injured ankle Garrido Diaz had, and a subsequent shackling that may have broken it.

There has not yet been a response to the complaint.

Sophia Genovese is a senior attorney with the Immigrant Law Center. She said there often isn’t a response until there’s media attention or public scrutiny, even though “this complaint alone should be enough to spur people into action at the department.”

Receiving asylum is a life-or-death situation due to unsafe conditions Garrido Diaz faces back home, Genovese added, and Homeland Security has the ability to delay deportation when there’s an ongoing investigation, but an investigation hasn’t started yet.

Emily Bruell, a former legal fellow with the center, is in regular contact with Garrido Diaz. She said via email that although attorneys requested the deportation hold, he asked her to remove it on Tuesday, Aug. 30. 

“He would like me to withdraw the request because it’s been too much. He’s been here too long,” Bruell said. “It’s been almost six months of detention.”

They expect deportation soon, she said. This has created a wave of emotions for Garrido Diaz, who said he feels helpless about what’s happened to him and the people around him.

“I feel really frustrated. I feel tied hand and foot because of the situation I am going through and the situation that many other companions are going through, and they don’t have a way to make their cases known as well,” Garrido Diaz said. “I feel disappointed, sad.”

He said he doesn’t want other people to keep coming to Cibola and enduring these conditions. Just this week, Garrido Diaz and others held a temporary hunger strike revolting against terrible bathroom conditions, Bruell said after speaking with him on Tuesday, with awful smells coming from broken plumbing into his unit and limited access to working facilities.

“My fear is also that more people will continue to come to this place as they continue to do, and that they will have absolutely nothing in their case, nor will they be provided with adequate conditions to be here,” he said.

Matthew Davio is a spokesperson with CoreCivic, the company that operates the Cibola detention center. He said these allegations aren’t true and don’t reflect the center’s policies. ICE monitors the facility strictly, he said, and people being detained have a grievance process they can go through if they feel they’ve been mistreated.

“Our staff are trained and held to the highest ethical standards. Our commitment to keeping those entrusted to our care safe and secure is our top priority,” Davio said via email. “We vehemently deny any allegations of detainee mistreatment.”

Due process violations

Garrido Diaz doesn’t speak any English. Months ago, in detention, officials gave him a Spanish-to-English dictionary to prepare his entire asylum application, according to the complaint.

To help translate the application, Garrido Diaz said he paid to send it to a relative through express mail. But the mail didn’t arrive for a month, which was after the application deadline, the complaint states. It also indicates that Garrido Diaz didn’t receive supporting evidence letters a relative mailed to him in detention. “I feel helpless about the mail,” Garrido Diaz said.

ICE denied his asylum claim.

Genovese said this brings up potential mail interference, which is a federal crime. She said there are mail problems happening at other detentions, too, like in Torrance and Otero Counties, where others being detained aren’t getting mail that the law center is sending them.

“This is a huge issue, and it’s not being taken seriously,” Genovese said.

Garrido Diaz had another window of opportunity for asylum through an appeal but still didn’t have any translation services beyond a dictionary, according to the complaint. The time to appeal passed him by.

Genovese said the center tried to reopen Garrido Diaz’s asylum proceedings recently because of the legal allegations, but Judge Jacinto Palomino denied it on Thursday, Aug. 25. The Immigrant Law Center has a month to appeal the decision, which Genovese said attorneys are considering.

Denial rate

From 2016 to 2021, Palomino has denied 90% of asylum claims. He’s denied 355 cases and granted 37, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse by Syracuse University.

Physical abuse, medical neglect

According to the complaint: In early July, Garrido Diaz injured his knee and ankle in the detention center. After experiencing intense pain and being unable to walk, he eventually got a walker but never a wheelchair, despite multiple requests for one. A doctor gave him an X-ray weeks later but didn’t give him the results or a diagnosis.

Shortly thereafter, on July 18, officials woke up a group of immigrants in the center, including Garrido Diaz, for deportation, the complaint indicates. It went on to detail that he was shackled at the ankles, wrists and waist for nearly an entire day, despite his injury and repeated requests for the restraint to be taken off his hurt ankle.

Deportation never happened.

While Garrido Diaz was waiting for his flight, the complaint states, his home country’s government told officials that they wouldn’t take him because of his injury. So officers finally took him to the doctor again, and he found out his ankle was fractured.

Garrido Diaz’s country of origin is not disclosed in this article due to safety concerns.

The Immigrant Law Center isn’t sure whether his ankle was broken before or after the shackles. It’s possible the ankle was just sprained until he was shackled for over 18 hours, Genovese said.

And between when officers woke Garrido Diaz up for deportation at 1 a.m. and when they unshackled him at Cibola around nearly 9 p.m., the complaint states he got food only once and no water.

“My fear is that, in this prison, is that we have no help from anyone, absolutely no one,” Garrido Diaz said.

ICE spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa said via email that the organization doesn’t comment on any pending or ongoing litigation, but ICE is “committed to health, welfare and safety of those in its custody” and has medical personnel that evaluate care.

“ICE is continually enhancing civil detention operations to ensure people detained by ICE are treated humanely, protected from harm, provided appropriate medical and mental health care, and receive the rights and protections to which they are entitled,” Zamarripa said.

There have been reports of rights being violated at ICE facilities all over the country. Groups have filed complaints against the organization in Florida and Georgia recently pointing to inhumane conditions and treatment.

In New Mexico, an immigrant from Brazil died last week in ICE custody at the Torrance County detention center, where there’s been evidence of unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Federal authorities said ICE should relocate people being held to other facilities months ago, but more people were still being sent there afterward regardless

As for Garrido Diaz, he’s afraid to go back to the doctor because he has to be shackled in order to do so, Genovese said. The law center asked officers to limit the restraints to only his waist and wrists but haven’t heard back.

“Just the process of getting him to the doctors is so cruel and unnecessary,” she said.

Deportation could happen at any time, she said, but officials will likely wait until his cast is off, which is expected to happen soon.

The cast was supposed to be removed weeks ago but wasn’t because Garrido Diaz got COVID. 

Garrido Diaz’s unit reported COVID symptoms on Friday, Aug. 5, according to the complaint, and he started feeling them the next day. But officials didn’t test him for days.

“Instead of taking immediate action, nothing was done,” Genovese said.

Bruell said he’s been out of quarantine for nearly two weeks now, but the cast is still on, and extended cast usage can jeopardize a person’s future mobility.

ICE ordered to release medically vulnerable people

COVID’s run rampant in detention centers. A judge’s ruling in a class-action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE, required the agency to consider releasing anyone detained who was especially vulnerable and not a danger to the community in early 2022.

ICE classified Garrido Diaz as medically vulnerable, but his evaluating officer denied his release based on the belief that he would be a flight risk. The Immigrant Law Center argues that alone wasn’t justification enough to keep him locked up.

Garrido Diaz tested positive on Tuesday, Aug. 9, the complaint states. He quarantined with up to seven other men and watched another man fail to get medical attention after becoming very ill and struggling to breathe. Garrido Diaz didn’t think he’d get medical attention if he got worse, according to the complaint.

His attorneys also outline ICE’s lack of transparency with COVID cases at Cibola, failing to report the positive cases or update them online.

“There’s a lot of inaccuracies and an unwillingness to genuinely take an interest in people’s medical safety, and that’s ICE’s responsibility,” Genovese said.

Garrido Diaz said the medical department was negligent through all these issues. He said he’s dealing with trauma following these events and asked for psychological help back in July, but he hasn’t received any.

“I feel marginalized, powerless and discriminated against,” Garrido Diaz said.

‘It is not only me’

These problems aren’t unique to Garrido Diaz or Cibola — they happen all the time, all over the country, Genovese said. 

Garrido Diaz said there are a lot of other people he’s held with who don’t get any attention.

“It is not only me who is going through this situation in this center,” Garrido Diaz said. “There are many more people who are going through this and have no way to get help for their case.”

He said if he does get deported, he’d ask “that my case does not remain in silence, because like me, there are many people in detention centers that go through what I am going through.”

The Immigrant Law Center is seeking to address systemic issues at New Mexico detention centers and ICE El Paso, Genovese said.

“The root of it is really examining why we’re detaining immigrants, particularly vulnerable immigrants, at all,” Genovese said. “If you cannot ensure the well-being of people in your custody, you shouldn’t have the privilege of detaining them at all.”

She said the center is advocating for the closure of immigration centers entirely. “Time and time again, they have shown that they’re incapable of respecting basic human rights and human dignity.”


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.