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Senators: Torrance County jail unsuitable

Mold, water leaks and clogged sinks and toilets were some of the conditions found at the Torrance County Detention Facility during a surprise inspection earlier this year, which is why a group of senators is asking that immigrants being detained there be sent elsewhere.

New Mexico Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján this week wrote a letter to the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling for the agency to end its contract with CoreCivic, the for-profit contractor overseeing the facility, and for the release or transfer of the detainees and other changes.

“We understand from complaints submitted recently by individuals detained in (the Torrance facility) that issues raised in the (Office of the Inspector General) alert remained unresolved, including chronic understaffing, filthy living conditions, inadequate medical care and other serious health and safety issues,” the senators wrote.

ICE contracts with the county jail about an hour outside of Albuquerque to detain immigrants.

The senators said an immigrant from Brazil recently committed suicide at the jail.

The detention center came under fire in February when the Office of the Inspector General made an unannounced visit to review conditions.

“During our inspection, we found such egregious conditions in the facility that we are issuing this management alert to notify ICE,” states an OIS report. “We have determined that ICE must take immediate steps to address the critical facility staffing shortages and unsanitary living conditions that have led to health and safety risks for detainees at Torrance.”

The report says the facility should have had 245 full-time staff but had 133 full-time employees and 112 vacancies. During a review of 157 cells, the office found about half of them had plumbing issues.

Heinrich and Luján were joined by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla, both of California, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both of Massachusetts, in calling for immediate changes at the facility.

“Grievous living conditions, critical staffing shortages, and lack of access to detainee services at (the jail) have been consistently documented and shown to be widespread, despite your agency’s assurances to the contrary,” the senators wrote. “This neglect puts those individuals who remain in the facility in unconscionable circumstances.”