The chairs of the House Committee on Homeland Security and the Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations are the latest to call for the closure of the New Mexico immigration detention facility at the center of a recent, blistering watchdog report.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) in that report urged that detained immigrants be removed from the CoreCivic-operated Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instead accused the watchdog of faking evidence.
“The Department has stated that it ‘will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention,’” Representatives Bennie Thompson and Nanette Barragán write. “We urge you to follow through on that commitment by immediately removing detainees from TCDF and ending the contractual agreement with the facility.”
“DHS OIG found that TCDF is severely understaffed, including significant shortages in medical and security personnel,” committee chair Thompson and subcommittee chair Barragán tell acting ICE director Tae Johnson in the March 24 letter, noting “unsanitary living conditions, including mold and numerous non-functioning toilets and faucets in detainee housing units.”
But instead of following that advice, ICE and CoreCivic outright accused inspectors of having staged one of the violations, a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News said. Truly an astounding claim from a government agency that’s made up accusations against immigrants in order to deport them.
“We are disturbed that in its response to the OIG’s findings, ICE is defending CoreCivic’s repeated failures to resolve ongoing issues to preserve detention space rather than following the OIG’s recommendation to remove detainees from TCDF,” lawmakers continued. They note that ICE itself has found that the facility has been in violation of its government standards.
The lawmakers write that in order to protect people currently at risk under these conditions, “we urge you to swiftly remove all individuals detained at TCDF and terminate ICE’s contract with the facility.” Immediately following the report’s release, Rep. Zoe Lofgren also called for officials to terminate TCDF’s contract, writing that conditions “cannot be overlooked.”
Immigrant and civil rights advocates also urged officials to release, and not transfer, people currently in custody. When Illinois implemented a law earlier this year effectively ending immigration detention in the state, ICE instead transferred them hundreds of miles away, far from advocates and family.
“During our inspection, we found such egregious conditions in the facility that we are issuing this management alert to notify ICE,” the inspector general said about TCDF. “We have determined that ICE must take immediate steps to address the critical facility staffing shortages and unsanitary living conditions that have led to health and safety risks for detainees at Torrance.”
Immigrants at the facility have also been attacked with chemical agents for peacefully demonstrating harmful conditions, while Haitian asylum-seekers have been repeatedly denied the “minimal standards of access to legal support.” CoreCivic has also attacked detained immigrants with chemical agents in other facilities, like Arizona’s La Palma Correctional Center in early 2020. Individual facilities are only one part of the problem. The whole immigration detention system is deeply harmful.
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