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 finding 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. Sometimes, we are even able to directly represent them in court.
In the short time that we’ve been working in the facility, we’ve met many people. These are a few of their stories.
Silvia*, a transgender woman from Mexico, 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* had 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.
Ibrahim* recently 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.
* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual