The ACLU of New Mexico has continued its advocacy for the rights of immigrants in New Mexico, highlighting the dangers of high-speed vehicle pursuits by immigration enforcement officials.
CBP Vehicle Pursuits
Over the past several years, New Mexico has witnessed several tragic high-speed vehicle pursuits by Border Patrol agents that ended in serious injuries and deaths.
These pursuits put everyone in our communities at risk, from the occupants of the vehicle being pursued to people driving home, to school or work. In March, a Border Patrol pursuit ended in tragedy near Lordsburg when the pursued vehicle crashed head-on into a New Mexico Department of Transportation truck, resulting in one death and at least four injuries.
"While we welcome the revisions to CBP’s vehicle pursuit policy...we know that robust training and oversight will be essential to ensure compliance with this new policy."
Despite the incredibly high risk, these pursuits are often targeting immigrants suspected of nothing more than misdemeanor entry without inspection. Often, people seeking asylum at the border are forced into these dangerous situations by the U.S. government’s punitive border policies and the lack of a humane, functional asylum system.
The ACLU of New Mexico and the ACLU of Texas, as well as coalition partners, have long advocated for more transparency and accountability in U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) vehicle pursuit policy. In January, CBP announced a revised policy that was originally scheduled to go into effect in May but has been postponed until June.
“Preserving human life is paramount, and this policy makes that a central consideration by adopting many widely accepted best practices, such as banning dangerous techniques like PIT maneuvers. We can only wonder how many lives would’ve been saved had CBP implemented these best practices sooner,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico.
"We can only wonder how many lives would’ve been saved had CBP implemented these best practices sooner..."
In early May, Sheff participated in a screening on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. of an episode of the Al Jazeera English documentary series Fault Lines where they highlighted the case of an ACLU of New Mexico client whose son died following a Border Patrol pursuit.
Sheff also produced a policy brief, shared with Congressional offices in D.C., analyzing the revised vehicle pursuit policy.
“While we welcome the revisions to CBP’s vehicle pursuit policy as a significant improvement and an important step forward for our border communities, we know that robust training and oversight will be essential to ensure compliance with this new policy,” she wrote. “We will continue to seek accountability for actions by CBP officers and agents that cause harm in our communities.”
The ACLU of New Mexico has also kept up the pressure on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to terminate its contract to detain immigrants and asylum seekers at the troubled Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.
"It’s long past time ICE terminates its contract and stops detaining people...at this facility."
Another failed inspection was added to the mountain of evidence that Torrance is unsafe, when in February, the Department in February when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an audit report indicating severe lack of compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).
PREA standards are vital for ensuring a baseline level of safety for people being detained in prisons, jails, and detention centers. Torrance, however, failed to meet 11 of 39 applicable standards at the time of the audit in April 2022.
“This deeply troubling audit is further proof that ICE, CoreCivic, and Torrance County are unable to ensure the safety of people detained in the Torrance County Detention Facility,” Sheff said. “It’s long past time ICE terminates its contract and stops detaining people -- including many asylum seekers who have faced harrowing journeys to the U.S. seeking protection -- at this facility.”
The DHS Office of Inspector General called for the immediate removal of everyone detained at the facility in March 2022 because of “egregious conditions” discovered during an inspection.
People detained at Torrance have also reported unsanitary and unsafe conditions including overflowing sewage and cells that don’t unlock when they’re supposed to. Our partner organization Innovation Law Lab published a report in February describing a severe mental health care crisis at the facility.
ICE has ignored those calls and continues to pay the private prison company CoreCivic almost $2 million a month to detain people at Torrance. Although the facility is operated by CoreCivic, ICE’s detention contract is with Torrance County.
Photo: ACLU of New Mexico billboard placed in the Albuquerque metro area to highlight the need to shut down the Torrance County Detention Facility.
As part of the ACLU of New Mexico’s push for ICE’s contract termination for Torrance, we partnered with the national ACLU for a series of billboards calling for closure.
The billboards, placed around Albuquerque, said “Seeking Asylum is Not a Crime” and “End Immigration Detention in Torrance County.” They were timed with nearly 95,000 messages that have been sent from around the country to the Biden administration demanding ICE stop signing new detention center contracts and close existing detention facilities.