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FRI: Senator again asks to close ICE prison after sewage sickens incarcerated people, + More

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) listens during a tour at the South Valley Economic Development Center on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2023. Heinrich joined with Senators from Colorado and Kansas to push for a national groundwater conservation piloted in the San Luis Valley on the Rio Grande.
Source New Mexico
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) listens during a tour at the South Valley Economic Development Center on Wednesday Aug. 23, 2023.

After sewage sickens incarcerated people, senator again asks Biden official to close ICE prison - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico 

When human waste flooded part of a U.S. immigration prison in central New Mexico last month, guards ordered incarcerated people to clean it up with their bare hands and put them in solitary confinement when they protested, according to a letter from Sen. Martin Heinrich to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

On Wednesday the senator from New Mexico again asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to close the Torrance County Detention Facility, an ICE prison in Estancia, and terminate his agency’s contract with CoreCivic, the company running the prison.

Mayorkas during a Congressional hearing on Nov. 9 told Heinrich that he would “look at” Torrance, that conditions in ICE prisons are a “priority” and he has closed five prisons that didn’t comply with “the conditions we insist upon.”

“Since our hearing, the situation at Torrance has grown even more dire,” Heinrich wrote on Wednesday.

On Nov. 14, raw sewage flooded two cell pods inside Torrance, covered half of the cells and much of the common area, and drained out through the dining area, Heinrich wrote. His letter cites a report from legal service advocates.

The flooding impacted about 40 men incarcerated in the same cell pod, according to Heinrich. Guards in the facility twice ordered them to clean it up, but didn’t give them protective gear, except for two pairs of gloves, Heinrich wrote.

About two days later, at least two incarcerated people in the same cell pod “suffered from rashes on the soles of their feet and legs and from respiratory problems,” Heinrich wrote.

Guards retaliated against the incarcerated people who protested their conditions, Heinrich wrote, by putting them in “administrative segregation,” a euphemism for solitary confinement.

While in solitary, the guards gave the incarcerated people spoiled food and refused to give them drinking water, clean clothes, fresh air, sunlight or heat in their cells, Heinrich wrote. They also did not let them speak with attorneys, according to Heinrich’s letter.

“A CoreCivic guard responsible for the night shift in their unit has repeatedly tossed the men’s belongings on the ground and threatened them with discipline, while refusing to give them his name,” Heinrich wrote.

Heinrich quoted from a February 2022 report on conditions at Torrance by the agency’s government watchdog, which found CoreCivic is unable to provide a safe, secure or clean environment for the people incarcerated there and the prison’s workers.

The Office of Inspector General told ICE to move all the incarcerated people out of Torrance until the problems are fixed.

ICE responded by trying to undermine the inspector general’s credibility, and then moving even more people into the prison. The incarcerated people later staged a hunger strike.

During the 2023 state legislative session, Democratic state senators joined Republicans to reject legislation that would have barred local governments from hiring federal immigration police to detain individuals for civil violations of federal immigration law.

On Wednesday, Heinrich wrote over the past two years he raised concerns to ICE about chronic understaffing, inadequate access to legal representation, inadequate medical and mental health care, lack of privacy during credible fear interviews, and “grossly inadequate facility conditions.”

“I am growing exceedingly frustrated that my concerns have not been addressed,” Heinrich wrote.

Las Cruces police officer indicted for voluntary manslaughter in fatal 2022 shooting of a Black man - Associated Press

A Las Cruces police officer has been indicted on a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a man during a confrontation last year, authorities said Thursday.

The officer, Brad Lunsford, allegedly shot 36-year-old Presley Eze in August 2022 at a Las Cruces gas station after an employee called 911 to report that Eze had left with a beer he did not pay for, according to authorities.

A grand jury returned the indictment this week. Lunsford's attorney, Jess Lilley, said Thursday he had not yet seen a copy.

"But we're anxious for a jury to listen to the truth of what happened," Lilley told The Associated Press. "We're confident that Mr. Lunsford will be found not guilty."

Authorities said Lunsford was the first officer to arrive at the gas station that day and began questioning Eze. A scuffle ensued when Lunsford and another officer tried to remove Eze from the vehicle he was in.

Eze resisted the officers' attempts to take him into custody, according to the attorney general's office. The man ended up on the ground on top of one of the other officers and placed his hand on the officer's taser.

That's when Lunsford drew his handgun and shot Eze once in the head at close range, authorities said.

Court records show the shooting happened just a few months after Eze was arrested by officers in nearby Sunland Park after he and another man were found unresponsive in a vehicle with firearms. The criminal complaint in that case stated that a background check at the time determined Eze had been convicted of an undisclosed felony in Connecticut in 2014.

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said his office consulted with experts who concluded that the use of deadly force in the 2022 case was not reasonable under the circumstances.

"It is our duty to ensure that law enforcement officers are held to the highest standards, that their actions are transparently examined, and that any misconduct is addressed with the utmost seriousness," Torrez said in a statement Thursday.

Prosecutors said Lunsford, 38, could face up to nine years in prison if convicted of voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement.

Bronco Mendenhall gets 5-year $6 million contract to lead New Mexico's football team - Associated Press

Bronco Mendenhall signed a five-year contract worth at least $6 million to take over New Mexico's football team, making him the highest-paid coach in program history.

The university released details of the agreement Thursday. It includes an annual base salary of $1.2 million and numerous incentives depending on the team's performance on and off the field and ticket sales.

Mendenhall said during a news conference that New Mexico has a special place in his heart and he knows the team can be successful again. He talked about his early career at New Mexico, having served as the Lobos' defensive coordinator from 1998 to 2001.

"This program I know is capable of sustained success, continued success and excellence. I've been a part of it, I've seen it and I'm looking forward to recapturing that," he said.

The 57-year-old Mendenhall was 135-81 over 17 seasons at BYU and Virginia, going 7-7 in bowl games before stepping away from coaching following the 2021 season. He moved to Montana with wife Holly and spent time fishing and horseback riding before deciding to return to college football.

Mendenhall succeeds Danny Gonzales, who was fired in November after a 4-8 season at his alma mater. Gonzales was 11-32 in four seasons with the Lobos, who haven't had a winning season since 2016.

Athletic director Eddie Nuñez said in a statement that New Mexico was looking for someone who had a clear vision of what the program could be and noted that Mendenhall twice turned around struggling programs and ended up winning championships.

All 11 of Mendenhall's BYU teams went to a bowl and he guided Virginia to three bowl games, including the Orange Bowl in 2019. He was the Mountain West coach of the year in 2006.

Federal judge poised to prohibit separating migrant families at US border for 8 years - By Elliot Spagat Associated Press

A federal judge was poised Friday to prohibit separation of families at the border for purposes of deterring immigration for eight years, preemptively blocking resumption of a lightning-rod, Trump-era policy that the former president hasn't ruled out if voters return him to the White House next year.

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw tentatively approved a court settlement in October between the Justice Department and families represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU says no one formally objected, clearing the way to end the case nearly seven years after it was filed.

Sabraw, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, ordered an end to separations in June 2018, six days after then-President Donald Trump halted them on his own amid intense international backlash. The judge also ordered that the government reunite children with their parents within 30 days, setting off a mad scramble because government databases weren't linked. Children had been dispersed to shelters across the country that didn't know who their parents were or how to find them.

Under the proposed settlement, the type of "zero-tolerance" policy under which the Trump administration separated more than 5,000 children from parents who were arrested for illegally entering the country would be prohibited until December 2031.

Children may still be separated but under limited circumstances, as has been the case for years. They include if the child is believed to be abused, if the parent is convicted of serious crimes or if there are doubts that the adult is the parent.

Families that were separated may be eligible for other benefits — legal status for up to three years on humanitarian parole; reunification in the United States at government expense; one year of housing; three years of counseling; legal aid in immigration court. But the settlement doesn't pay families any money. In 2021, the Biden administration considered compensating parents and children hundreds of thousands of dollars each, but talks stalled.

As he seeks to return to the White House in next year's elections, Trump has been noncommittal whether he would try to resume family separations. He defended the results in an interview with Univision last month, claiming without evidence that it "stopped people from coming by the hundreds of thousands."

"When you hear that you're going to be separated from your family, you don't come. When you think you're going to come into the United States with your family, you come," Trump said.