“The A.C.L.U. is now raising new concerns after it obtained government records that it says support claims that conditions there are ‘atrocious,’” The New York Times reports. “The records, which were provided to The New York Times, describe structural issues with the building and complaints by detainees that they could not reach their lawyers and that the drinking water was making them sick.”
The ACLU of New Mexico and Innovation Law Lab have since released more than 100 pages of documents showing “dangerous conditions and understaffing … much more pervasive than previously revealed,” the organization said. Maintenance requests spanning months show issues from flooded cells to units without hot water, “including an order for a cell that had not had ‘hot water for a mont[h].’” There were also heating issues as temperatures outside “hit a low of 30 degrees.”
Other records reveal dozens of staff shortages, including one nursing position vacant for more than a year. Government watchdog reports have previously confirmed that ICE’s failure to provide medical attention has led to death.
Notably, one document from acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, a holdover from the previous administration, downplays concerns about legal access, the organizations said. It’s dated just one month before Vial’s death. Organizations including the ACLU of New Mexico and Innovation Law Lab said last month that Vial “had been unable to get clear or consistent information from ICE about when he would be removed from the facility.”
“These documents show that the abhorrent conditions at Torrance persisted in the months leading up to Kesley Vial’s tragic death, despite ICE's claims to the contrary,” said ACLU of New Mexico’s Rebecca Sheff. “CoreCivic's own records show that these serious health and safety issues have long been well-known. They are well aware that the housing units are freezing cold in the winter, the hot water doesn’t work, the toilets constantly flood and the understaffing puts everyone at risk. Despite that, ICE continues to insist on holding people in this inhumane facility.”
This is not the first call for the emptying of Torrance; it was the Department of Homeland Security watchdog that in an unprecedented action this past spring called for all detained immigrants to be moved from the facility. But the civil rights advocates call on the Biden administration to go further and cancel the private prison profiteer’s federal contract.
It should. From violently retaliating against immigrants who were peacefully protesting dangerous conditions during the pandemic to repeatedly denying the rights of Black asylum-seekers, Torrance has shown that cruelty is the only mode in which it seeks to operate.
“ICE’s recent efforts to downplay the life-threatening problems at Torrance are an insult to Kesley Vial's memory, to all who have suffered there, and to all New Mexicans who believe people seeking refuge in our state should be treated with dignity and humanity,” Sheff continued. “Everyone detained at Torrance should be immediately released to seek the support and care they need and the contract must be terminated.”
“These records are the smoking gun that prove not only that ICE and CoreCivic have kept people locked up under the most abhorrent and dangerous of conditions for months at a time, but that they have done so knowingly and they have lied to the public about it,” said Innovation Law Lab’s Ian Philabaum. “Detained folks filed complaints, and ICE and CoreCivic ignored them.”
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