ESTANCIA, NM – Nine people seeking asylum from Cuba and Guatemala and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project have reached a settlement agreement with CoreCivic for an incident in May 2020 when guards at the Torrance County Detention Facility allegedly deployed pepper spray without justification to break up a peaceful hunger strike. The strike was in protest of the facility's lack of adequate precautions against COVID-19, dismal living conditions, and the withholding of status updates on their immigration cases.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), and Montgomery & Andrews, P.A. represented the plaintiffs in the case in the Seventh Judicial District Court.
All parties involved in the settlement agreed on the following statement:
“The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM), the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center (NMILC), and Montgomery & Andrews, P.A., litigated a case in the Seventh Judicial District on behalf of nine individual Plaintiffs and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. The lawsuit alleged that the individual Plaintiffs—nine asylum-seekers from Cuba and Guatemala—were subject to arbitrary and excessive force by CoreCivic personnel at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia, New Mexico, when they were pepper-sprayed in their housing unit in May 2020. CoreCivic denies all allegations of wrongdoing and asserts that facility staff acted reasonably under the circumstances. The lawsuit that was filed has now been resolved.”
The Santa Fe Dreamers Project, NMILC, and the ACLU of New Mexico noted the horrific conditions of the detention center and called for its closure.
“Asylum seekers come to our country looking for safety and humanity. Instead, they are incarcerated. While in detention, asylum seekers are perpetually mistreated and are kept in the dark about their rights and the legal process they are subjected to in order to petition for asylum,” said Deshawnda Chaparro, legal director with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. “The incidents leading to this lawsuit are a prime example of why immigration detention is not how we should treat immigrants or asylum seekers. We look forward to the day when all detention centers are closed.”
“Our clients suffered trauma and abuse while they were detained at the Torrance facility, at the hands of the very people charged with protecting their health and safety,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico. “People seeking asylum in the U.S. should be welcomed with dignity and supportive services, not subjected to detention, violence, and inhumane treatment. The detention facility in Torrance has a long history of human rights violations and abuses. People detained there continue to endure irreparable harm. We renew our call for ICE to terminate the immigration detention contract for Torrance and release everyone detained at the facility to seek the care and support they need.”
“I still remember the first call we received reporting that a large number of guards had entered a housing unit and sprayed detained people with pepper spray. We knew individuals had begun a peaceful hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention, particularly given that COVID-19 was spreading rapidly,” said Jasmine McGee, managing attorney at the NMILC. “Many individuals were then moved to isolated cells and not allowed to shower for days – even after exposure to the pepper spray. Some contracted COVID-19; a few attempted suicide. It took months to interview people detained there, obtain video through public records requests, and piece together proof of the abuse that these individuals had endured. Three years later, many of them are still suffering irreparable harm from these inhumane actions.”