Haitian Asylum Seekers Held Under Bridge Now Face Inhumane ICE Jail Conditions

Images of Haitians on horseback being whipped by U.S. Border Patrol officers shocked the world. Numerous people are currently being held in an asylum facility. ICENew Mexico has a jail where inhumane conditions prevail and they are denied access to legal assistance. We spoke with a lawyer who described medical neglect, deteriorating mental health, and poor treatment from the staff. “They cannot get the basic tools and have the basic human contact that they need to save their own lives,” says immigration attorney Allegra Love of the El Paso Immigration Collaborative.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.orgThe War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Now we will look at what happened with some of the Haitian asylum-seekers that we first heard about in September. The world was stunned by images of U.S. Border Patrol officers on horseback whipping them as the waded across Rio Grande into Texas. After fleeing violence, extreme poverty, and political turmoil in Haiti, thousands sought refuge under a bridge in Del Rio.

While most of the Haitian asylum seeker were deported in mass by the Biden Administration, some are still being held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE, jails. Human rights activists raised alarm about the dozens of asylum seekers held at Estancia, New Mexico’s Torrance County Detention Facility. They claim they are being subject to abuse and neglect. Advocates also claim that asylum seekers have had little access to legal services, and that many of their requests for release to stay with family members or sponsors while they are sorted out have been denied.

CoreCivic, a private for-profit prison corporation, manages the jail. Torrance failed its annual inspection by the government in April due to poor staffing and unsanitary conditions. Torrance also saw an enormous COVID-19 epidemic and was sued by several asylum seekers in May after guards pepper-sprayed them last year for starting a peaceful hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions. For more, we’re joined in Santa Fe, New Mexico, by immigration attorney Allegra Love of the El Paso Immigration Collaborative. We are glad you came to. Democracy Now!, Allegra. Please describe the Haitian asylum-seekers in Estancia’s Torrance facility. Also, what is happening now.

ALLEGRA LOVE:Good morning. We think that between 60 and 80 men are being held at Estancia’s Torrance facility, New Mexico. This is in addition to the men we first saw under the bridge in Del Rio in Texas. For reasons that no one has made clear to me, in spite of the fact that I am their lawyer, at least 45 of those people’s lawyer, we have not been told why they were chosen to be put in this detention center and were spared the expulsion flights that thousands and thousands of their countrymen were subjected to. They are being held in administrative hearings to be sent to Haiti, claiming to be seeking asylum.

My clients were detained in the detention facility on September 21st. They have now been there for more than two months. We are getting complaints about food, water and treatment from the staff. And probably scariest to me, we are receiving really, really sincere complaints across the board of medical neglect and people’s physical and mental health deteriorating inside of this facility rapidly.

AMY GOODMAN:I would like to see a statement from one the Haitians you are trying help at Torrance. This is a statement by a Haitian 25-year-old man who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. He wrote, “If I don’t have an attorney I think that they can deport me. I don’t know what asylum is. I wasn’t allowed to speak. They didn’t explain anything, and just said that I was supposed have an attorney. I don’t want to go back to Haiti. I can’t go back. My family member was killed, and his house was set on fire. My mom has been crying for me because I can’t go back. If I go back I can’t even leave the airport.” Talk more about this situation and what has to be done now, Allegra.

ALLEGRA LOVE: You have to imagine that this is not a detention facility that is next to a big city, next to a place where there’s lots of law firms, next to a place where there’s a law school who can help all these people. This is in the middle the barren New Mexico desert, and there are not many lawyers who can help these people with cases. Asylum cases can be very complex. It is extremely complicated legal. It is very difficult to prove your claims and you will need legal assistance.

Many of the men who are held in that facility were detained between September 27th and November 12th when I first contacted them. This was to be able to speak with them in person. So when this person, my client says “I don’t know what asylum is,” he is being sincere. He has not spoken in his native language to someone who can help him understand the very serious legal process he is facing. He said that he had been to one or two hearings before an immigration judge who is 300 miles away in El Paso. He spoke with him over video, and is now trying to remove him from the nation.

Detention—I am never going to say—there’s really no conditions for me that depriving an asylum seeker of their liberty is going to work for me, but it certainly does not work when they cannot get the basic tools and have the basic human contact that they need to save their own lives. That is exactly what we have in New Mexico’s remote and rural detention center.

AMY GOODMAN:Allegra, can we talk about CoreCivic? This private for-profit detention prison operator is running this facility and failed to pass an inspection last year.

ALLEGRA LOVE:CoreCivic is a private prison corporation that makes its profits from the United States. ICEThis detention center kept immigrant bodies inside. It is interesting that during the Trump administration, due to the border closures, and because of the pandemics, there were less than a dozen people in this detention center by the end 2020, right before Trump was elected. This resulted in a significant loss of profit for these corporations. Now, the Biden administration is repopulating this rural detention center in order to boost corporate profit.

What is really, really alarming is Torrance’s failure to pass inspection this summer. It is extremely difficult to fail an inspection. I believe your program does a good job of highlighting the problems with immigration detention. However, most facilities pass their inspections. Torrance failed. Our president and this administration are choosing to repopulate a facility that has not met the standards for caring for human lives. They are repopulating the facility with extremely vulnerable people, particularly Haitians. It is part of a deterrent strategy. It is part of a strategy to make sure that more Haitians don’t attempt to come into this country.

AMY GOODMAN:Allegra Love, we will continue covering this issue. It is so crucial. Today, we have an immigration attorney from El Paso Immigration Collaborative in Santa Fe, New Mexico.