In November 2023, NIJC, Innovation Law Lab, ACLU of New Mexico and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of four asylum seekers detained by ICE at Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) in Estancia, New Mexico. Plaintiffs filed this class action lawsuit challenging the federal government's continued use of the facility after ICE unlawfully certified the detention center as compliant with federal standards despite chronic, egregious conditions of confinement.
People detained at TCDF have long suffered in deplorable conditions. By any reasonable measure, the detention facility does not provide even basic levels of care. TCDF has been repeatedly found to be chronically understaffed, which has led to a lack of sufficient access to medical staff and health care, compromised security, filthy housing units and common areas including broken sinks and toilets, and serving meals from a kitchen where food was left exposed to pesticides, equipment was rusted, and dishes were not effectively sanitized.
Based on these and other egregiously substandard conditions, ICE should have terminated its contract with TCDF in the spring of 2022, but ICE looked the other way. Congress requires that ICE terminate contracts with facilities that repeatedly fail to adhere to ICE’s own detention standards, but for years, ICE has evaded that requirement by relying on flawed inspections to ensure that facilities virtually never fail. For example, inspections are pre-announced 30 days in advance, giving facilities ample time to temporarily modify conditions in the facility, only to revert back after the inspectors leave. Some inspectors are remote and never set foot in the facility, relying entirely on uncorroborated statements from jail staff that the facility is compliant. ICE’s own officials have called the inspections “very, very, very difficult to fail” and “useless.” Yet the conditions in TCDF are so egregiously poor that in July 2021, TCDF failed the inspection that no one fails.
In March 2022, abysmal conditions persisted at TCDF to such an extent that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) issued an unprecedented Management Alert to ICE, calling for the immediate removal of all individuals from the facility. The OIG observed numerous troubling violations of federal standards including a lack of safe drinking water, moldy and leaking sinks, broken toilets clogged with human waste, and vacant security posts.
That same month, ICE's own contracting officer found that TCDF was in on-going violation of federal detention standards, "critically understaffed," and failing to "provide a safe environment for staff and noncitizens."
Despite DHS-OIG and ICE officials sounding the alarm that conditions remained dire, mere weeks later, when it was time for ICE's make-or-break follow-up inspection of TCDF, ICE disregarded and blatantly contradicted these reports and inexplicably assigned TCDF a passing grade. ICE did this, not because the conditions at TCDF had improved, but because it was trying to avoid losing access to bed space at the detention facility, which would have been required if TCDF failed a second consecutive evaluation.
Plaintiffs seek to represent a class of all current and future individuals held by ICE at TCDF. These individuals never should have been detained in the facility. Instead, they are facing the continuation of the same substandard conditions documented in July 2021, March 2022, and in repeated reports since, including a lack of safe drinking water, severe understaffing, clogged sinks and broken showers, and serious delays in medical treatment.
Plaintiffs call for the Court to vacate ICE’s certification that TCDF passed its follow-up overall performance evaluation in the spring of 2022 and to remand to the agency to either reverse its decision or justify its certification of TCDF as compliant with detention standards despite extensive contrary evidence before the agency at that time. In the absence of an appropriate agency response, Plaintiffs call for the Court to rule that ICE must cease using federal funds to detain non-citizens at TCDF, as federal law requires.
ICE’s failure to provide oversight over conditions in detention facilities is a well-documented, systemic problem. NIJC is currently litigating Xirum et al. v. ICE et al., another class action lawsuit against ICE and Clay County in the Southern District of Indiana based on a similar claim that ICE turned a blind eye to the jail’s blatant, repeated violations of federal detention standards to evade federal law and maintain bed space at the facility.
Complaint (November 3, 2023)
In The Media
Press release: Immigrants Detained At Torrance County Detention Facility Sue ICE Over Sham Inspection (November 2023)