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VIDEO: Heinrich Secures Commitment from DHS Secretary Mayorkas to Review Torrance Detention Center

Heinrich emphasizes the importance of investments to improve technology at land ports of entry to detect fentanyl

WASHINGTON – During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing to review President Biden’s supplemental funding request for the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) secured a commitment from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to become personally familiar with long-standing concerns about the conditions at Torrance County Detention Facility, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with for the detention of migrants.

“I have had longstanding concerns about the conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility,” said Heinrich. “In 2022, the Department of Homeland Security’s OIG actually recommended immediately relocating all of the ICE detainees from Torrance until the facility ensures adequate staffing and safe living conditions. A subsequent DHS report reaffirmed the same sort of basket of problems.”

Heinrich continued, “I want you to become personally familiar with this facility and its challenges. Will you commit to doing that?”

Secretary Mayorkas responded, “I will. And I should say two things: the conditions in ICE detention facilities is indeed a priority. And, for the first time, we closed five facilities that did not comply with the conditions that we insist upon. I commit to you to look at the Torrance facility, Senator.”

Last October, Heinrich led a call for immediate action by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to remedy the ongoing unsafe, inhumane conditions at its privately contracted Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF). In a letter to ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, Heinrich and his fellow signatories cited ICE’s continued failure to meet basic standards for humanitarian conditions at TCDF, as documented in a March 2022 Management Alert and a September 2022 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, and exemplified by the death of 23-year-old detainee Kelsey Vial.

During his questions, Heinrich also emphasized the importance of investments in the President’s supplemental request to improve technology at land ports of entry to detect illicit substances, like fentanyl, that are being smuggled through the border.

“Secretary Mayorkas, we glossed over what you said about the importance of technology at our land based ports of entry,” said Heinrich. “So I want you to expand on the technological investments that are incorporated into this supplemental and why they are so important in particular to detect illicit narcotics like fentanyl. And please reiterate why it is so important specifically, because of the numbers, to focus on those land based ports of entry.”

Secretary Mayorkas responded, “Senator, over 90% of the fentanyl that is smuggled into this country is smuggled in through the ports of entry, predominantly via passenger and commercial vehicles. Non-intrusive inspection technology is a remarkably efficient force multiplier in enabling us to detect the ingenious ways that fentanyl is sought to be smuggled through those vehicles. The detection technology that we seek to advance in this supplemental—I believe it is about $1.1 billion—is just an extraordinary tool in detecting that and enabling our personnel to work on other elements of port security.”

Heinrich followed up, “That $1.1 billion, how much additional capacity to scan incoming passenger vehicles will that give you?” 

Secretary Mayorkas responded, “It’s by a multiple, Senator, it’s just an extraordinary advancement of our mission.”

In August, Heinrich welcomed President Biden’s FY24 supplemental funding request that includes substantial investments in New Mexicans’ health and safety by strengthening border security, repairing and expediting the nation’s immigration process, and combatting the flow of illicit fentanyl.

This followed Heinrich successfully securing language in the Senate Appropriation Committee’s markup of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill, directing the Drug Enforcement Administration to develop a first-of-its-kind comprehensive fentanyl tracking system. This system will track and document where fentanyl is seized, the chemical composition of seized substances, probable or known manufacturing location, and probable or known point of entry into the United States.

During the hearing, Heinrich also asked Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra about the scheduling process under the Controlled Substances Act and the unique expertise that HHS brings to the science behind the process.