Senate committee advances bill to end migrant detention contracts in New Mexico
SANTA FE, N.M. — There are three migrant detention centers in New Mexico – all tucked away in more rural parts of the state – and they are all facing numerous allegations of inhumane treatment and deplorable living conditions. Immigrant rights advocates have been sounding the alarm for years and it’s clear some state lawmakers have had enough.
The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would block local governments from entering new migrant detention contracts with federal immigration authorities and force them to terminate existing ones.
“This bill wants to remove New Mexico from being complicit in the caging and torturing of migrants,” said Sophia Genovese, managing attorney with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.
Advocates have chronicled the troubling allegations at privately owned facilities in Torrance and Cibola counties for years.
“There’s inadequate food, increasingly, men and women do not have access to clean drinking water,” Genovese said. “On top of not having access to medical care. or people who speak rare languages or people who have disabilities, they don’t have accommodations that are constitutionally required.”
Attorneys say months of inhumane treatment even pushed a 23-year-old Brazilian detainee to take his own life back in 2022.
“You need to remember that these detention centers are detaining people who are coming here seeking asylum, they have not violated any law, there’s no, there’s no issue, but they come to our country seeking refuge,” said state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. “And they’re treated like criminals.”
While this proposal would not force the facilities or any private prison to completely shut down, officials from multiple counties told lawmakers that restricting migrant detention operations could impact jobs.
“I’m concerned that we’re going to impact citizens of these communities, and yet, we’re not enhancing the conditions of the detainees when they get moved elsewhere,” said state Sen. Greg Nibert.
Several members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have raised concerns about the facilities before.
Congressman Gabe Vasquez visited the Cibola County facility just last week, and on Wednesday, called for increased federal oversight.
“We are a nation of immigrants and we shouldn’t be treating people in the way that we do,” Vasquez said.
The Senate bill cleared its first committee along a party-line vote, but it’s expected to face more scrutiny in the notoriously tough Senate Judiciary Committee.