New Mexico bill would ban contracts for migration detention

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico legislators have introduced a bill that would prohibit local governments and state agencies from entering into contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and private detention facilities to detain immigrants in civil cases.

The bill introduced Tuesday could unwind contractual arrangements at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral in southern New Mexico and spur closer oversight at others. The Otero County facility is operated by Utah-based Management & Training Corporation on behalf of ICE. It typically holds about 600 male and female migrants seeking asylum or legal status in this country.

The bill as presented would not directly compel changes at two other immigration detention facilities in New Mexico that are owned and operated by Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic. Those facilities are the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan and Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.

The proposal was sponsored by Democratic state Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Moe Maestas, both of Albuquerque, with the backing of advocacy groups that are critical of U.S. policies and practices in migrant detention.

Sophia Genovese, an attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, said the bill has the potential to halt immigration detention at the largest holding center in the state at Chaparral. It also would inspire closer oversight of detention conditions at two privately owned facilities — if the federal government chooses to contract directly with CoreCivic at its Estancia and Milan sites without involving county governments.

“We’re hoping that by demonstrating at the state level that New Mexico does not want ICE detention in our state, that helps at the federal level get rid of these contracts,” Genovese said.

The Torrance County Detention Facility was the focus of a scathing inspection report after an unannounced visit in early 2022 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General. The inspector general found unsafe and unsanitary conditions and recommended the relocation of detained migrants.

The findings were disputed by CoreCivic and ICE. A follow-up inspection by the inspector general showed compliance with 10 of its 14 recommendations.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján last year urged the federal government to terminate its contract with CoreCivic at the Torrance County Detention Facility.

It was unclear whether Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supports the newly filed legislation. Innovation Law Lab and New Mexico Dream Team are among the other supporters of the proposed legislation.

The bill resembles recently enacted legislation in New Jersey, Virginia and Illinois aimed at ending detention in civil immigration cases in local facilities.

California’s 2019 ban on privately owned immigration detention facilities was rejected last year by a federal appeals court that cited interference with the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration law.

Read the New Mexico Senate bill here: