ACLU launches billboard campaign against migrant detention facility

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TORRANCE COUNTY, N.M. — The ACLU of New Mexico is taking its battle against the trouble Torrance County Detention Facility to a bigger venue. 

“We think it’s time to get loud, and to make the public more aware of what’s really going on,” said Rebecca Sheff, a senior attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. 

The nonprofit group is behind a set of billboards appearing on digital screens along I-25 and I-40 in Albuquerque. One billboard is calling for the end of migrant detention.

The other states “seeking asylum is not a crime.” Both designs include a hashtag advocating for the closure of the Torrance County Facility. 

“We’re to the point of saying ‘Enough is enough, it’s time for this place to be shut down,'” Sheff said. “It’s inconsistent with New Mexican values for us to be punishing asylum seekers within our state by detaining them in these horrific conditions. It’s not who we are. It’s not what we want to be doing.” 

The Torrance County facility has faced numerous allegations including unsanitary living conditions, a lack of medical and legal resources, and inhumane treatment from employees.

An Office of the Inspector General report from March 2022 outlined many of those allegations and ultimately recommended immediately rehousing all detainees and closing the facility.

A follow-up report in September noted some grievances from the initial report were addressed, but it still recommended closing the facility. 

A 23-year-old Brazilian migrant housed at the Torrance County facility reportedly took his own life in August after suffering the inhumane conditions.

Advocates say his death sparked a hunger strike at the facility and a similar site in Cibola County. Numerous handwritten letters from migrants housed at both facilities describe the troubling conditions and ask the public for help.

Attorneys say the migrants housed in both facilities – many from Central and South American – came to America seeking asylum from dangers in their home countries. 

“They’re coming here with the expectation that we’ll welcome them,” Sheff said. “Instead, what’s happening is that ICE is detaining them in these facilities, which are indistinguishable from the conditions that people in criminal custody are held in.” 

Tennessee-based CoreCivic owns and operates the Torrance County Facility (Note: ICE manages immigration and deportation decisions among migrants).

The company has repeatedly denied allegations against the facility and responded to the ACLU’s billboard campaign with the following statement:

Much of the recent reporting about TCDF has been inaccurate and misleading. The reality is that we provide a safe, humane and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us at TCDF and are constantly striving to deliver an even better standard of care. 

We’re proud of our dedicated team at TCDF who work hard every day to keep those in our care safe while providing for their needs as they progress through the civil immigration process. Our staff are trained and held to the highest ethical standards as part of our commitment to our Human Rights Policy. We have a robust grievance process for detainees to raise any concerns they may have.  

Brian Todd

Public Affairs Manager, CoreCivic.”

Previous statements from CoreCivic about the TCDF allegations have included identical language. 

New Mexico’s congressional leaders have taken steps to address the allegations.

Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury visited the facility unannounced last March and was critical of the filthy living conditions.

Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan co-signed a letter in October calling for the facility’s closure following the Office of the Inspector General’s final report.

KOB 4 reached out to their office for comment on the ongoing situation but have not heard back.