Peaceful Protest of TCDF at Torrance County Commission Meeting

Peaceful Protest of TCDF at Torrance County Commission Meeting
An immigration activist leaves the podium after public comment at the Torrance County Commission meeting. - Todd Brogowski/Mountainair Dispatch
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The April 10, 2024, meeting of the Torrance County Commissioners was a standing-room-only affair. Individuals with multiple immigration rights organizations were in the audience to protest against renewing the contract with CoreCivic for operating the Torrance County Detention Facility (TCDF). Individuals were present on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union-New Mexico (ACLU-NM), El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, the Innovation Law Lab, the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and Volunteers for Immigrants in Detention Albuquerque (VIDA).

The Torrance County Commission addressed the protest along with regular commission business, moving public comment to the end of the meeting so it could address regular business first, then address the public comments from the organizations at length, in the words of Commission Chairman Ryan Schwebach. Members of the Torrance County Sheriff's Office were present at the meeting. There were no arrests at the event.

A common theme in the statement of protestors was that detainees at the TCDF reported inadequate food, lack of access to clean drinking water, a lack of medical attention, and detainees being forced to wear dirty underwear. Sophia Genovese, managing attorney for the asylum and detention program at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, stated, "We are no longer at a point where we can reasonably disagree about what's happening at TCDF [to] the migrants. The truth [is] these violations have been known and are well-documented."

Andres Esquivel, campaign manager employed by the New Mexico Dream Team, read a statement on behalf of Ricardo Gonzalez, who Esquivel described as a survivor of the Torrance County Detention Facility, having been held there from December 29, 2023, to March 8, 2024. Esquivel read from Gonzalez's statement that Gonzalez had witnessed guards at the TCDF abusing a detainee. Esquivel read, "An inmate had a hernia in the side of his stomach, and one day, as he fell to the ground from the pain, instead of getting help from the - instead of getting the help that he needed from the guards - the guards ended up kicking him where he had the hernia, and other inmates had to jump in to stop the guards."

Kelly McCloskey-Romero stated that detainees at the TCDF were "living the unlivable." She went on to describe the detainees' experience.

[Detainees] share with us specifics about the injustices of being detained at TCDF. They talk about being cussed at and mistreated by the guards. They don't have access to clean water to drink. They are served substandard and inadequate food. Despite their countless physical and emotional wounds, they are not provided with timely or adequate medical care. Those that do express their feelings and their despair are placed in solitary confinement. These conditions are inhumane and unjust and you can do something about them.

Ian Philabaum, director of legal organizing at the Innovation Law Lab, provided additional information regarding the allegations made regarding the abuse of a detainee with a hernia from the detainee himself, who was not named. Philabaum said the detainee reported the problem to a guard on March 3, 2024, saying,

I told the guard on duty about my problem. I begged him to call the medics to examine me because I was in so much pain, but his response was that he would see what he can do, but didn't promise anything and then continued with his normal work routine. ... When the medics came, they took me to a room in the detention center, and the examination was done there internally. They only gave me sedatives and then returned me to my cell. The morning after that, I urinated in my pants because of the pain and I had a high fever. I put in a medical request both on paper and on the tablet so they could see me. Since the guards didn't want to take me, the moment that they opened the door, my friends decided they would take me themselves. When I woke up, I was in the clinic at the detention center. I was told that they were going to transport me to a hospital outside the Detention Center. They did an x-ray, and the results were that they found a hernia. The doctor said I was going to need surgery but at a different location. So they were going to send me to a different clinic because they didn't have the necessary equipment to do the operation....

Philabaum's statement on behalf of the unnamed inmate with the hernia contradicts the claims made by Andres Esquivel on behalf of detainee Ricardo Gonzalez, in which it was claimed that guards kicked the detainee with a hernia and had to be pulled off the detainee by other individuals (mentioned above).

Mountainair resident Denise Rubi spoke regarding her experiences with the TCDF.

On July 17, 2022, I experienced firsthand the inhumane conditions in the Torrance County Detention Center, where I was falsely imprisoned for 24 hours. I have a heart condition which requires medication. My medication was checked in at the prison. With the stress of being unjustly locked up, I began suffering symptoms of a heart attack, which are nausea, my left arm going numb, and pressure on my chest. From my first moment experiencing these symptoms, it was about a half an hour before I saw a guard come my way to ask for help. Then, I had to wait for that guard to get a nurse to see me so she could tell me I had to wait until morning to take my meds that were never given to me until I was finally released late in the evening on July 18[, 2022].

Context Beyond the Mountainair Dispatch

Many other publications have reported on the Torrance County Detention Facility. A selected group of articles from other publications is included below:

Additional speakers presented statements regarding the condition of the infrastructure at the TCDF, such as Isa Peña, the director of strategy at the Innovation Law Lab. "I will share things that we commonly hear: leaky infrastructure leading to human waste backups, foot fungus, and slip and fall injuries; lack of effective laundry, leading to dirty clothes and rashes; [and] terrifying and painful delays in medical attention leading to injury."

Public comment by one of the immigration activists at the Torrance County Commission meeting. - Todd Brogowski/Mountainair Dispatch

County Commissioner Sam Schropp responded to the public comments made by members of the immigration rights organizations. Schropp described himself as being hands-on regarding the TCDF. "I'm the guy who was at the prison at 9 AM on Christmas Day, 8 AM on Labor Day Monday, who went to the prison during the 100° F temperatures last summer and bitter cold days this winter," he said. Schropp said he had toured the prison with Zoe Bowman, supervising attorney at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and Ariel Prado and Ian Philebaum of the Innovation Law Lab. Schropp also described hosting the family of an immigrant detained at the TCDF.

Schropp said that he had investigated claims that the prison's water supply was inadequate and undrinkable and found that these allegations were not true. However, Schropp said, he joined in the concerns regarding immigrants' rights, although he did not believe that the TCDF's conditions were substandard.

[Detainees] are being held in a prison without being charged or convicted of a crime in the US. They have no reasonable expectation of when their asylum claim will be heard or how that system will work. This is the inhumanity of the process, not the physical conditions in the prison. [The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)], [Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)], and CoreCivic are following the law and policies mandated by Congress. The inhumanity of being held against their will without charge or conviction is a problem of federal policy, not problems with CoreCivic or its staff at the Torrance County Detention facility. I add my voice to yours in protest, not against CoreCivic, or the physical conditions at the facility, but rather where the blame for the faults and inequities belong: to the Congress of the United States. …

Schropp’s statement was interrupted by a woman in the audience who yelled out, "Do you believe these people here are telling lies?"

To listen to the audio from this meeting, please visit the recording located here. While there is also a transcript at that location, it is AI-generated and not accurate.

Update 04/12/24 1:55 PM: Corrected the spelling of Ian Philabaum. Mr. Philabaum has requested additional corrections regarding the credibility assessment made concerning his statement at the meeting. I have requested documentation to support this correction and await his reply.

Update 04/29/24 7:11 PM: Mr. Philabaum's request to change the article has been rejected due to lack of evidence. Please see this post for additional information.

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