The Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia is once again drawing fire from advocacy groups, legal organizations and activists who looking at shutting the privately run prison down.
“At this point, the non-stop issues at this facility, whether its mistreatment by officials or conditions are so horrific that it is unlivable that we do not believe this facility should remain open and ICE should not be allowed to detain asylum seekers there,” said Sofia Genovese, managing attorney, EJW Disaster Resilience Fellow with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.
Genovese was speaking about a recent, 187-page complaint and findings that was sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Executive Office for Immigration Revue, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Homeland Security officials did not respond to a request for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Innovation Law Lab and Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center joined the Immigrant Law Center in compiling and signing off on the complaint.
While the facility has undergone significant criticism for its conditions in the past, the new allegations claim prison officials are not giving migrant asylum seekers due process in the initial analysis of their situations, Genovese said.
After numerous prior complaints about the facility, the Department of Homeland Security repurposed it as a site “to conduct rapid Credible Fear Interviews and swiftly transfer noncitizens in and out of the facility,” according to the complaint. “In so doing, DHS has regularly blocked migrants’ access to counsel, engaged in due process and privacy
violations during the CFIs, and mistreated noncitizens in its custody.”
The rate of acceptance hovers around 12%, Genovese said, compared with about 70% at similar facilities elsewhere on the country.
“By January 2023, legal service providers observed large numbers of people being transferred to TCDF. Almost all the new transfers detained at TCDF were people who had been detained near the border and placed in ‘expedited removal,’ a process in which asylum seekers must pass a ‘credible fear interview’ with an Asylum Officer to avoid rapid removal from the country,” the complaint read. “In January 2023, the first full month of ICE’s re-launch of TCDF as a mass expedited removal center, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center tracked the results of 134 noncitizens’ expedited removal cases, finding that 118 asylum seekers in the cohort received negative credible fear determinations while only 16 received positive credible fear determinations, a grant rate of just 11.9%. By contrast, the national CFI grant rate for January 2023 was 69.7%, nearly six times higher.”
The facility simply is not conducive to the proceedings for which it is now tasked, Genovese said.
According to the complaint, the facility “is uniquely unsuited as a site for such a high-stakes legal process. Because of TCDF’s mismanagement, every step of expedited removal as conducted there is flawed and deprives noncitizens of key rights. As discussed in greater detail below, noncitizens detained at TCDF are frequently denied basic access to legal orientation before their CFIs; are put through their CFIs in a plainly unfit non-private setting; often unlawfully do not receive service of key documents related to the credible fear decisions in their cases; and receive only brief, pro
forma reviews of negative CFI decisions by Immigration Judges who almost invariably affirm negative decisions. As a result, the observations of legal service providers indicate that the credible fear process as conducted at TCDF is particularly flawed, pass rates are unusually low and many individuals detained at TCDF are deprived of due process.”
The problems begin almost as soon as migrants enter the facility, the complaint reads.
Problems “begin as soon as noncitizens are transferred to the facility,” according to the complaint. “In their first days at TCDF, noncitizens are systematically prevented from accessing legal orientation to the asylum and credible fear process. As advocates have observed, access to this orientation is critical to ensuring noncitizens are fully informed of the process they are being subjected to. Noncitizens in CFI proceedings are almost always unrepresented, making access to this basic information of utmost importance for what is often a life-or-death determination.”
Additionally, many of the initial interviews are not conducted in proper, private settings, but in more of a group situation, with interviewees separated by office cubicles, making it difficult for the asylum seekers to disclose intimate details of their circumstances.
And translators are often unavailable to decipher the expedited removal documents that are delivered exclusively in English, the complaint showed.
For these reasons, among others, “combined effect of the serious problems with expedited removal at TCDF, many asylum seekers with strong asylum claims are ordered removed without a meaningful opportunity to present their claim,” the complaint showed.
Therefore, “It is abundantly clear that TCDF is ill-equipped to ensure the safety and wellbeing of noncitizens in its custody and that DHS and EOIR are unable to afford due process to people seeking asylum there,” complaint read.
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