For Immediate Release
December 2, 2019
In October Cuban asylum seekers at the Otero County Processing Center staged protests demanding their release from imprisonment. In response, ICE transferred a third of the men to distant detention centers in New Mexico, and kept several of them in solitary confinement at Otero for nearly a month. Only a handful of the protestors were released. Advocates and attorneys sent a letter to ICE officials calling for the release of those men who remain in detention and are now scattered across three New Mexico detention facilities.
On October 29, more than 20 Cuban asylum seekers decided to peacefully protest in the yard at Otero during their recreation time. Chanting “libertad” [freedom], they then staged a sit-in to insist on their freedom and to demand meetings with their non-responsive deportation officers. Staff from Management and Training Corporation, the private prison company that runs Otero, identified several men as as protest “leaders” and punished these individuals with 29 days of prolonged solitary confinement.
Prior to the peaceful action, several who participated in a previous sit-in on October 16 were abruptly transferred to Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico. Subsequently, a few others who were being held in solitary at Otero were transferred to the recently opened Torrance County Detention Center in Estancia, New Mexico. Both facilities are managed by CoreCivic, a private prison company with a long history of abusive practices in New Mexico. The Cubans’ struggles for freedom continue, with a number of individuals engaging in hunger strikes and suffering solitary confinement at Cibola. In the past several men engaged in significant self harm and were placed on suicide watch. Concerns mount that with prolonged detention similar acts of desperation may be taken again in the future.
Problems with ICE detention generally and OCPC particularly
Civil rights violations in immigration detention predate the 2001 formation of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Modern immigration detention began in the early 1980’s with the cruel incarceration of Cuban asylum seekers from the Mariel Boatlift. Newly established “processing centers” were plagued by problems with abusive treatment, medical neglect, unsanitary conditions, lack of access to counsel, and no effective mechanism to challenge prolonged incarceration. Unfortunately, civil rights violations continue to worsen. ICE’s own documents make clear that immigration detention is not punishment (PBNDS 2011:i and Schriro 2009:2-3). Yet, the 2015 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on immigration detention found that ICE detention constitutes “torture like conditions.”
According to ICE more than 60% of the people held in detention pose absolutely no risk whatsoever. In 2017, DHS OIG inspectors who visited the Otero County Processing Center found poor treatment leading to an overall negative climate and misuse of solitary confinement including punitive lock-down without adequate documentation or appeal process. The 2019 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on immigration detention highlighted an overall poor treatment of asylum seekers in ICE detention, and specifically mentions Otero as engaging in problematic punitive use of solitary confinement.
Between 2003-2017, 172 people died in ICE custody. Since the start of the Trump administration, more than 24 people died in ICE custody. A transgender woman, who died as a result of medical neglect at Otero is not counted among that 24 because she was “released” from ICE custody onto hear deathbed. Recently, Cuban asylum seeker Roylan Hernandez-Diaz died by suicide after months in ICE detention in a facility in Louisiana.