ICE’s presence grows in New Mexico while benefiting the private prison industry

By: Adriel D. Orozco, Esq., Associate Director

About two years ago, the Torrance County Detention Facility closed leaving more than 200 employees without jobs and devastating the local economy. It is a common story as many small towns in rural America are highly dependent on the prison industry. But the closing of the Torrance County prison highlights the fundamental problem of privatizing prisons: the financial interest of these companies incentivize the growth of mass incarceration and put a dollar figure on the heads of human beings—literally.

In July 2017, CoreCivic, the private company which ran the Torrance County prison, no longer found the prison lucrative enough to keep open and gave the county a 60-day ultimatum—fill at least 300 beds with state or federal inmates or the prison would be shut down.

Though the county was unable to deliver then, CoreCivic was just awarded a new contract to reopen the facility this month. On May 15, 2019, the Torrance County Commission voted unanimously to reopen the facility as an immigrant prison under a new 5-year deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CoreCivic. 

The contract requires that the county guarantee a minimum of 714 immigrant inmates and ICE will pay nearly $2 million per month to use the prison in its first year. The federal government will pay about $90 per day for each additional inmate for up to 892 inmates.

The imprisonment of immigrants is big business for CoreCivic but not necessarily for New Mexico’s counties. These types of deals typically include two contracts where ICE pays the county and the county pays the private prison company. Under this scheme, the county usually gets a relatively small reward for its role.

The same month that the Torrance County prison closed in 2017, an investigative report found that Cibola County’s contract with ICE and CoreCivic to imprison immigrants in Milan, New Mexico resulted in only $0.50 per inmate to the county while CoreCivic received a lump sum payment of $2.5 million monthly.

Torrance County’s contracts with ICE and CoreCivic are no different. According to the contracts included in the County Commission’s meeting agenda, Torrance County will effectively act as a pass through entity as it will receive $0.50 per inmate per day from ICE while the county is required to pay CoreCivic the rest of the funds it receives.

The Trump Administration’s push to incarcerate more immigrants feeds this well-oiled machine. This month, ICE reported that more than 52,000 migrants across the country were in immigrant prisons—the highest in the agency’s history.

New Mexico’s reliance on private prisons is no secret; however, the state of New Mexico should not be complicit in expanding the Trump Administration’s racially-fueled deportation machine. This past legislative session two bills died in committee that could have prevented the Torrance County prison from re-opening and would have limited the use of state resources in enforcing federal immigration laws.

New Mexico’s two immigrant prisons in Cibola County and Otero County have long histories of human rights violations and it is mindboggling how the state can continue to allow these facilities to operate let alone allow a new one to open. Profits should not be prioritized over people—the basic principles of justice and human dignity require New Mexico’s leaders to reject our state’s increased reliance on them.

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