Second migrant attempts suicide after alleged mistreatment at Torrance County Detention Facility

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TORRANCE COUNTY, N.M. – For months now we’ve heard report after report of mistreatment inside the Torrance County Detention Facility, a privately-run center.

Now, attorneys say a second migrant detainee attempted to take his own life late last month to escape the conditions inside.

Attorneys say the man – who came to America to flee persecution in Brazil – was only inside the facility for five months. During that time, he reportedly suffered enough mistreatment and psychological neglect that he reached a breaking point. 

Attorneys are worried it could happen again.

“All of this highlights the failure of this private prison company to care for people in its custody,” said Ian Philabaum with Innovation Law Lab. 

For the second time this year, a migrant housed inside the Torrance County Detention Facility has reportedly attempted to take their own life.

“The lack of access to information, the lack of agency and advocating for himself, the conditions that he suffered, the treatment that he was subjected to, by the people that run the facility, it all became too much,” said Philabaum. 

Attorneys with the Innovation Law Lab say the Brazilian man’s immigration case was already denied by a judge before the incident, yet, he remained inside the facility.

“He didn’t know if he was going to be released. He didn’t know if he was going to be deported, he didn’t know if he was just going to be stuck in there forever,” Philabaum said. 

Just days before he attempted suicide, the man signed his name on a handwritten letter describing the torturous conditions inside the facility, including raw food, verbal abuse, and a cold, concrete cell called “the hole,” which was reportedly used by psychologists to isolate potentially suicidal patients – that’s if detainees were able to see a psychologist.

“Earlier in the day before he attempted suicide, he asked to speak to a psychologist, he was told that nobody was available and he would have to wait until the next day,” said Philabaum. 

In August, a 23-year-old man — also from Brazil — took his own life after four months inside the facility. Despite mounting backlash since that incident, attorneys say it’s clear conditions are not improving.

“The conditions and treatment that they provide resulted in this person attempting to take their own life. And somehow, they feel that the same people that caused those conditions and led this person to make this decision, or the same people in the same conditions that are going to solve that issue,” said Philabaum. 

We reached out to Core-Civic, the company that runs the Torrance County Facility, about these latest allegations and they deflected most of our concerns to ICE, who did not respond to us. 

Instead, they sent us this statement from October saying:

“Recent reporting about the Torrance County Facility has been inaccurate and misleading. The reality is that we provide a safe, humane and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us.”

Earlier this year, migrants at the Torrance County Facility reportedly staged a hunger strike to protest the deplorable conditions following the first suicide attempt.

Core-Civic’s statement goes to deny there ever was a hunger strike. However, photos of the deplorable conditions, in a federal watchdog report earlier this year, urged all detainees to be released.

Core-Civic claims inspectors intentionally staged those photos and disagreed with the overall conclusion.

Core-Civic also operates the Cibola County Correctional Facility, where migrant detainees reportedly staged their own hunger strike in October to protest similar conditions and mistreatment.

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury, D-N.M., jointly issued the following statement:

“Our offices remain engaged with DHS officials regarding the situation surrounding Rafael Oliveira do Nascimento and the chronically inadequate conditions and neglect faced by the individuals who remain at this facility. We urge U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to immediately terminate ICE’s Torrance County Detention Facility contract with the for-profit contractor CoreCivic and use its broad discretionary authority to transfer or release all eligible detainees from the facility.”