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Migrants at New Mexico CoreCivic ICE Detention Center Forced to Clean Up Sewage with Bare Hands

by Douglas Ankney

When raw sewage flooded two cell blocks at New Mexico’s Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) on November 14, 2023, guards working for its private operator, CoreCivic, ordered some 40 affected migrant detainees being held for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to clean it up—and gave the group just two pairs of gloves. Worse, when they complained, the detainees were allegedly thrown in solitary confinement.

That prompted U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to fire off a letter the following month to Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is ICE’s parent agency, demanding that the lockup be shut down. Heinrich noted that after the bare-handed cleanup operation, at least two detainees “suffered from rashes on the soles of their feet and legs and from respiratory problems.” When they complained, guards put them in “administrative segregation” and gave them spoiled food, as well as denying them access to attorneys, Heinrich said.

“A CoreCivic guard responsible for the night shift in their unit has repeatedly tossed the men’s belongings on the ground and threatened them with discipline, while refusing to give them his name,” he added.

Heinrich also pointed to a March 2022 “management alert” from the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) that called on ICE to empty TCDF because it was severely understaffed and plagued by “toilets and sinks that were inoperable, clogged, or continuously cycling water.” However, that memo went ignored and ICE certified the lockup had passed inspection, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Nov. 29, 2022, online.]

Heinrich told Mayorkas that he was “growing exceedingly frustrated that my concerns have not been addressed.” So are TCDF detainees, four of whom filed suit against ICE on November 3, 2023, calling that March 2022 inspection a “sham.”

That complaint, filed in federal court for the District of New Mexico, notes that ICE has a “Two Strike Mandate” requiring removal of detainees from any lockup that fails two inspections in a row. TCDF had already failed its previous inspection, so the next failure should have ended its contract. Instead, the suit claims, ICE made an end-run around the OIG report and bought a passing recommendation from the Nakamoto Group, a private inspection firm previously accused of rubber-stamping inspections for ICE, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Aug. 2022, p.24.]

Plaintiffs are represented pro bono by attorneys with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP in New York City and Washington, D.C., the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, Innovation Law Lab in Portland and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. See: Doe v. Immigration & Customs Enf’t, USDC (D.N.M.), Case No. 1:23-cv-00971.  


Additional source: Source NM

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Related legal case

Doe v. Immigration & Customs Enf’t