Our organization, VIDA: Volunteers for Immigrants in Detention-Albuquerque, visits immigrants in detention at Cibola County Correctional Center and Torrance County Detention Facility on either side of Albuquerque every month.
These visits are full of tears as they lament the deplorable conditions under which they live. We work hard to engage them in laughter and hope during our visits, and we see their humanity as they express themselves about the horrors that they are leaving behind and their hopes for a future in the United States of America. On a daily basis, these asylum-seekers are being treated worse than animals rather than human beings in these facilities.
During the recent legislative session, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 172 so that the intergovernmental service agreements at the root of the way these facilities function will no longer be tolerated. Unfortunately, the bill failed 18-20. Democratic Sen. (Joseph) Cervantes (of Las Cruces) voted no.
These men in detention are not able to speak for themselves, so we feel compelled to elevate their stories, and to stand up for them and their human rights. Why did these legislators fail to show up for human rights in our state?
We learn from these visits that ICE detention at these facilities is torture. The conditions under which these men are forced to live are inhumane and unacceptable. For example, many suffering mental health crises are put into solitary confinement, often without clothes in freezing temperatures. Passing SB 172 would have enabled New Mexico to extract itself from its complicity with this cruel and unjust system. The intergovernmental service agreements that Torrance, Otero and Cibola counties have entered into with ICE and private prison companies lead to a lack of accountability on all sides and consistent violations of human rights and the law.
The stories that we hear from the men in detention are disturbingly consistent. They are suffering from lack of medical care, depression, trauma and grief. As they await news of their case, they feel isolated and alone, and rather than receiving medical or basic care, they deal with inhumane treatment by private prison and ICE staff regularly. They fear for their futures and for their families as they live under torturous conditions day after day.
Every time we visit with detained asylum-seekers, we are strengthened in our resolve that this system must be abolished. Although the legislative session is over, we must not forget these human beings in detention and the dignity that they deserve.
I am very disturbed by the Democrats who failed to vote in favor of this bill. I’m concerned for our democracy and I’m outraged that immigrants – people – are suffering human rights abuses on a daily basis in our state.