New Mexico senators seek probe of ICE facilities

By:  Jens Gould

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich on Monday asked federal authorities investigate the conditions and oversight of immigrant detainees held in facilities such as the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico.

In a letter to acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, the Democratic senators from New Mexico said they had “deep concern about the reports of inhumane treatment” at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.

“We request that you immediately investigate the conditions and oversight for detainees held at all ICE detention facilities to evaluate violations of detention standards and make that report public,” the senators wrote in the letter, which also was directed to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.

The letter came a day after The New Mexican published interviews with two Cuban asylum-seekers held at Cibola County Correctional Center who said authorities had used solitary confinement as a punitive measure in retaliation for their hunger strikes at detention centers in Otero and Cibola counties.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also has demanded that ICE put an end to “inhumane treatment” at facilities in the state, sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security last month that called for an investigation.

On Monday, Udall and Heinrich called for a review of the training that officers and contractors receive on how to process and give medical attention to transgender detainees.

Additionally, they asked for the department’s inspector general to examine the agency’s practice of long-term detention of individuals who have been ordered to be removed from the U.S. but who will not be accepted by their home countries.

“What are the Administration’s long-term plans for dealing with immigrants with final removal orders whose home countries refuse to accept them back?” the senators asked in the letter.

The inquiries by New Mexico elected officials were partly triggered by a series of recent reports coming out of the ICE facilities in the state.

A transgender asylum-seeker from El Salvador died in an El Paso hospital earlier this year after two months at the Otero facility. A transgender woman from Honduras died last year while in ICE custody in Cibola County. In July, detained Indian asylum-seekers began a hunger strike at Otero that lasted 75 days.

And last month, a group of detained asylum-seekers staged sit-ins at the Otero center in Chaparral, with at least two people attempting suicide.

“What are your procedures for dealing with vulnerable individuals who pose a suicide risk?” the senators asked Wolf. “Are suicidal individuals placed in solitary confinement? If so, what are the reasons that justify this practice?”

One Cuban asylum-seeker said he had been detained for around eight months since crossing into the U.S. and was placed in solitary confinement for 29 days.

The Cuban detainees also said guards have made insults and racist remarks against them.

Last month, Udall introduced legislation that would create an independent ombudsman aiming to bring more accountability and transparency to border and immigration enforcement-related issues.