ALBUQUERQUE — A group of immigrants detained in inhumane conditions at New Mexico’s Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF) is suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for certifying a sham inspection in 2022 that allowed ICE to evade federal law and continue detaining immigrants at the facility, despite known ongoing violations of federal detention standards.

“The conditions and medical services in TCDF are deplorable - this place is not prepared to care for people or meet even their basic needs,” said Luis Doe, a plaintiff proceeding under pseudonym in the lawsuit, who has been detained at TCDF for over a month and a half. “ICE does not care about the poor conditions we live in inside TCDF. Everyone detained in TCDF complains about these conditions and ICE ignores us - it's clear to us that they don't care about us and because they have ignored us for so long, that they are knowingly subjecting us to these inhumane conditions.”

“Staff at TCDF ignore our pleas for medical attention,” said Ernesto Doe, another plaintiff proceeding under pseudonym in the lawsuit. “The mistreatment we endure every day is horrible. I hope this lawsuit will help others more than just me. We’re treated like animals, not humans who deserve basic dignity.”

The lawsuit challenging the ICE inspection process and TCDF’s ongoing immigration detention contract was filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. The plaintiffs are represented by pro bono attorneys at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP, National Immigrant Justice Center, Innovation Law Lab, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico.

Congress has mandated that ICE cancel its contract with any immigration detention facility that fails two consecutive overall performance evaluations, which measure a facility’s compliance with federal immigration detention standards. TCDF failed its 2021 evaluation, with inspectors citing chronic understaffing and unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. Serious violations persisted in March 2022, when the jail underwent its follow-up inspection, but ICE nonetheless gave the facility a passing rating.

The follow-up inspection in March 2022 took place only two weeks after the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General issued an unprecedented management alert calling for ICE to immediately remove all people from the facility due to critical staffing shortages, security lapses, and unsanitary living conditions including water leaks and clogged toilets full of human waste. That same month, an ICE contracting officer had issued a similarly scathing report, showing that violations of federal immigration detention standards persisted.

“ICE's failure to hold detention facilities accountable for egregiously substandard conditions is not new, and is not unique to Torrance County Detention Facility. It is endemic across the ICE detention system,” said Mark Feldman, senior attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center. “We have seen this play before, and it ends with people detained in dangerous and squalid conditions, in blatant disregard of oversight requirements Congress has written into U.S. law.”

“Individuals detained inside TCDF are experiencing conditions that endanger their health and obstruct their ability to access their basic legal rights. ICE has known about the dire rights violations and mistreatment at TCDF for years – not only because advocates have filed countless complaints, but because the government’s own oversight agencies have reported on the severity of the situation,” said Tess Hellgren, attorney and director of legal advocacy at Innovation Law Lab. “We are filing this lawsuit because it is clear that unless we hold ICE accountable, they will continue to willingly subject individuals to the inhumane conditions that persist at TCDF.”

“It is intolerable to us as New Mexicans that people seeking safety and refuge are detained within our state in inhumane and abhorrent conditions. For years, TCDF has failed to adhere to even the minimum required standards meant to keep people safe,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “The federal government has disregarded a mountain of evidence and persisted in detaining asylum seekers at this dangerous facility, causing untold suffering and wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer money in the process. But ICE is not above the law. We hope through this lawsuit to hold them to account for their continued reliance on this troubled facility.”

The plaintiffs in the case, who are proceeding under pseudonyms for their safety, are:

Carlos Doe, a 32-year-old Venezuelan man seeking protection in the U.S. who has been held in medical isolation at TCDF for over a month and a half. While in isolation, he once went an entire day without access to drinking water and on other occasions has gone several hours without water despite asking for it. Until a medical professional intervened about a month after his arrival, he also had been denied any access to a shower, telephone calls, or outside recreation time.

Luis Doe, a 26-year-old Venezuelan man seeking protection in the U.S. who has been detained at TCDF for over a month and a half and has experienced alarming delays in medical care, has been served spoiled or still-frozen food, dealt with clogged toilets and broken showers, and has not received payment he was promised for working as a cleaner in his housing unit.

Ernesto Doe, a 42-year-old Venezuelan man seeking protection in the U.S. who has been detained at TCDF for more than two months. He was forced to wait more than two weeks to receive treatment for a tooth infection and believes that one of his infected teeth was not fully removed. He is often hungry or cold because people at the facility are not provided sufficient food or clothing, and his bedsheets have not been cleaned since he arrived at TCDF. He says he has felt pressured by guards to clean the facility, sometimes without pay, and that he does not feel safe.

Gabriel Doe, a 40-year-old Venezuelan man seeking protection in the U.S. who has been detained at TCDF for over a month and a half, who says he is often thirsty because the guards do not provide enough drinking water for people in his housing unit. He receives insufficient food, and says the food he receives often is not fully cooked. He often waits in a long line to be able to use one of the few working showers in his housing unit, which have only cold water. His bedsheets have not been cleaned since he arrived at TCDF, and he feels that the guards treat him as less than human.