ICE Detainees Living in Cells With Non-Functioning Toilets, Sinks: Report

A new report from Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General recommends the immediate relocation of detainees from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in New Mexico, citing staffing and hygiene issues as reasons why the detainees should be moved.

The Torrance County Detention Facility has been operating with just over 50 percent of the staff recommended for the facility and has toilets and sinks in several of its detention areas that are clogged, inoperable or constantly running, the report states.

The report came a week after more than 100 House Democrats sent a letter to the Biden administration calling on ICE to suspend detention expansion, phase out private for-profit facilities and conduct a review of all ICE detention facilities. Near the end of last year, Newsweek reported that the number of migrants in detention centers had increased more than 55 percent since President Joe Biden took office.

Earlier this week, Newsweek reported that ICE is detaining an unknown number of Ukrainian refugees under a policy of detaining asylum-seekers that was introduced as a pandemic safety measure.

The Torrance facility, which housed 176 male ICE detainees at the time of an early February inspection, may have trouble with staffing levels because of its remote location, about an hour away from Albuquerque, according to the report.

The facility's contract with ICE calls for about 245 full-time staff, and the report states that at the time of the inspection, the facility had just 133 full-time employees. The new investigation showed that staff members are often required to work a minimum of six overtime shifts per month to fill the gaps of staffing shortages.

Immigration Customs Enforcement New Mexico
A new report suggests that detainees at an ICE facility in New Mexico should be relocated immediately because of a variety of issues. Above, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent preparing to arrest alleged immigration violators on June 19, 2018. Smith Collection/Gado/ICE via Getty Images

In December 2020, ICE issued a "contract discrepancy report" that specified shortages of medical employees with issues elsewhere in the facility.

In addition to shortages, the inspection also found that 83 of the 157 cells in the facility had significant plumbing and hygiene issues, including mold, inoperable toilets and sinks that had missing cold or hot water faucets or could not produce hot water.

The inspection also revealed several security lapses like blind spots and inadequate supervision of detainees, in addition to empty control rooms, likely due to the significant staffing shortages identified in the inspection.

The report recommended immediate relocation of all detainees and temporary closure of the facility until it can be properly staffed and provides the correct amount and quality of care to detainees like safety and hygiene standards.

ICE issued several disagreements with aspects of the inspection and subsequent report and said the Office of the Inspector General "ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions."

In its response sent to the Inspector General earlier this month, ICE claimed that staffing has increased at the facility and is at over 80 percent of the recommended staff. Most, if not all of the plumbing and hygiene issues have been fixed or will be in the process of being fixed by the end of March, ICE said.

ICE also claimed in its response that the inspector allegedly staged at least one of the photos in the report, which showed detainees retrieve drinking water from a faucet that is used to fill mop buckets in a common area. ICE alleged that video surveillance showed after the picture was taken, one of the detainees poured out the water and did not drink it.

The Inspector General's Office deemed ICE's response to be insufficient, and said the recommendation to remove all detainees is still considered "unresolved and open."

Update 3/18/22, 6:55 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.

Update 3/18/22, 6:27 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional information.