Fighting Immigrant Detention at Cibola

Fighting Immigrant Detention at Cibola

“Even in Denver courts, less than 50% of asylum seeker win their cases. Our focus is to provide people with information so they can make informed decisions about their own cases and determine how to proceed… We saw value and potential success in self-representation.”

-NMILC Equal Justice Works Attorney and Cibola Coordinator Rebekah Wolf


Equal Justice Works Attorney Fellow Rebekah Wolf with her client after winning asylum hearing

If you drive about 90 miles from Albuquerque into the tiny town of Milan, NM, you’ll come across a large complex surrounded by tall gates and barbed wire–the Cibola County Detention Center. Not long ago, Cibola was a private prison run by the infamous Corrections Corporations of America, or CCA, and was shut down due to medical violations. However, shortly after Trump took office, CCA rebranded themselves as CoreCivic, and Cibola reopened its doors as an immigrant detention center.

By March, the detention center was housing the greatest percentage of asylum seekers of any detention center in the country and included the only facility to hold transgender immigrants. Most of the people in this detention center are fleeing violence in their home countries and recently arrived in the U.S. Others have been living in the U.S. for years, but were picked up by ICE and placed in deportation proceedings.

The odds of immigrant detainees receiving immigration relief are slim. Nationwide, only 14 percent of detained immigrants receive legal counsel. Without representation in court, immigrants are far less likely to win their cases or even know what type of relief they might be eligible for.

NMILC, in partnership with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, is trying to change that. Twice a week a small team of attorneys and legal assistants give presentations and individual consults to detainees in Cibola. We use a mix of pro se services and direct representation to help as many people as possible..


In the short time that we’ve been working in the facility, we’ve met many people. These are a few of their stories



As a transgender woman from Mexico, Silvia spent several years in the United States after fleeing persecution because of her gender identity. She returned to Mexico when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, but the violence she faced continued. After being trafficked by the Narcos, she knew that she had to find a way to get back to the U.S. She was detained and deported trying to reenter the country and declared herself as an asylum seeker at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since December, she has been moved from one detention center to the next, all while trying to fight her case. In California, she found an attorney to represent her for free, but since being moved to Cibola it has been hard for them to communicate. NMILC attorneys are working with Silvia’s lawyer to bridge the communication gaps and ensure Silvia receives the legal support she needs


Carlos hcarlosad been living in the U.S. for three years when he was stopped by ICE officers while pumping gas. The officers accused him of being a drug dealer, despite the fact that there were no drugs found in his car. ICE transported him to El Paso in a van where his hands and feet were chained along with other detainees. Eventually ICE moved him to Cibola, where he has spent the past month. His girlfriend, who has children and is fighting cancer, is struggling to make things work without his support.

Without legal representation, the odds of getting out of detention on bond with the immigration judge are slim, but NMILC attorney Adriel Orozco was able to represent Carlos in his bond hearing after the two met during one of our weekly trips to the facility. Adriel won the case and now Carlos can return to his loved ones while he fights his deportation case.


ibrahimIbrahim graduated from university in West Africa, where he studied politics and foreign languages. A member of a rival political party to the government, Ibrahim had been arrested and detained several times by government police forces after participating in peaceful protests. While detained, he was denied food, forced to do unpaid labor, and tortured.

Things came to a breaking point one night when he was out of the house and the police showed up at his door. The police mistook Ibrahim’s uncle, who was visiting, for Ibrahim himself, and killed him in front of his mother. Knowing his life was in danger, Ibrahim flew to South America and then declared himself as an asylum seeker at the U.S.-Mexico border.

NMILC and the Santa Fe Dreamers Project have worked together to advice Ibrahim on his case and have found a pro bono attorney to directly represent him–greatly increasing the likelihood that he will win his case and be able to remain in the U.S.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Partner with us


$140 covers one month worth of printing materials

$300 supports all costs related with one trip to the detention center

$3500 supports one month of services at Cibola


We are looking for bilingual volunteers who can commit to traveling to Cibola once a month to support our work at the detention center.

The NM Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice coordinates volunteers to assist with housing and transportation for released detainees.

Cibola in the News

Inside a private prison’s 150M dollar deal to detain immigrants in New Mexico

Sarah Macaraeg/ October 26, 2017


This article gives an interesting perspective on the broader issue of the privatization of detention centers and what it means for the future of immigrant detention.

“An examination of hundreds of documents from the beginning of January through mid-February 2017 shows that at least 185 immigrants were deported from the facility during that time. Immigration court has no corollary role of a public defender, and without appointed counsel to represent them, most people face removal proceedings alone.”

Report: “What Kind of Miracle…”: The Systematic Violation of Immigrant’s Right to Counsel at the Cibola County Correctional Center”

National Immigrant Justice Center/ November 29, 2017

This report focuses on immigrants’ lack of access to justice in Cibola and in detention facilities across the country.

“An NIJC survey of legal service providers reveals that New Mexico and Texas immigration attorneys, at their maximum capacity, are only able to represent approximately 42 detained individuals at the Cibola prison at any given time — six percent of the jail’s population in April 2017.”

“Today, DHS jails approximately 40,000 immigrants daily —more than any administration in recent history— and holds them longer. The administration has publicly embraced the use of prolonged detention for asylum seekers and moved to weaken the standards governing conditions of detention.”

“A black hole of due process” in New Mexico

Sarah Macaraeg/ December 1, 2017

NM In Depth

Macaraeg’s article highlights the work of NMILC and the PALS program, as well as individual stories of people we have worked with there.

“A 26-year-old paralegal with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, Alejandro Macias watched family and friends struggle through deportation proceedings as he came of age in New Mexico. After walking away from a nascent career in finance, Macias is now focused on cultivating economic opportunities for DACA recipients amidst visits to Cibola twice weekly. However limited, he thinks the presence of legal aid is crucial.

“There’s zero hope for certain individuals,” he says. “No one else is going to go out and do this work, in this rural state with very little access to legal services,” he says. “Who else is going to help the African who’s fleeing persecution in his home country and who’s going to be helping that Central American kid who’s fleeing from gangs, or that Mexican transgender person who is fleeing because they’re being persecuted for their gender association?”

“In my community, we have a saying ‘Saliendo Adalante.’ Keep moving forward. But a lot of the time, it’s not even about that, about moving your family forward anymore. It’s about surviving. And that’s what some of these people are doing too. They’re just trying to survive.”