NM Senators seek investigation into ICE detention centers

By:  Angela Kocherga

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall are calling for an investigation into conditions for detainees at all Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities.

“We are troubled by continued reports of inhumane treatment at ICE detention facilities that appear to be widespread at facilities housing ICE detainees across the country,” the Democratic senators wrote in a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.

They singled out the ICE detention center in southern New Mexico for special attention in the letter sent Monday: “We write to express our deep concern about the reports of inhumane treatment at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, such as the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico.”

ICE was not immediately available Monday to comment on the letter.

Udall and Heinrich said they support Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request on Oct. 25 for an investigation of conditions in Otero. Three men from Cuba detained in the facility operated by Management and Training Corporation for ICE tried to commit suicide last month, according to attorneys and advocates who have visited the facility.

ICE confirmed two men tried to “harm themselves,” but said they only “scratched their wrists” before staff intervened. A third man, Iosnaiqui Acosta-Columbie, a 32-year-old asylum-seeker from Cuba, cut his wrist and was bleeding as he was being taken to solitary confinement in October, according to his attorney.

“Investigate this prison. Interview all of us so the world can see what we’re suffering,” Acosta-Columbie said in a message delivered through the attorney to the Journal. The facility in Chaparral has also been the site of multiple hunger strikes by asylum-seekers from India.

Udall and Heinrich also asked for a “full review of the training that officers, agents and contractors receive related to the processing, medical evaluation and care, and safety of transgender individuals in DHS custody.” The federal lawmakers expressed concern that surveillance footage of Rosxana Hernandez, a transgender woman from El Salvador, who became deathly ill while in custody, may have been destroyed.

The senators asked the DHS Office of Inspector General to evaluate violations of detention standards and make their findings public. They also called for an evaluation of long-term detention for people in immigration proceedings, including the “overall cost-effectiveness of long-term detention of individuals who do not present a flight risk or a danger to the community.”