Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Discrimination against asylum seeker with disability in NM leads to national policy change

Edgar Garrido Diaz came to the U.S. seeking safety from his home country.

In August 2022, Garrido Diaz suffered a knee and ankle injury during recreation time while detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Cibola County detention center in northwestern New Mexico.

A few weeks after that, federal immigration officials tried to deport him. They made his injury worse because officers kept Garrido Diaz in leg shackles for nearly an entire day, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found.

The federal investigation, prompted by a 2022 complaint from lawyers representing Garrido Diaz, concluded the immigration officials responsible for his detainment and deportation discriminated against him while he suffered a physical disability.

Complaint says Cibola detention and ICE neglected an asylum-seeker, leaving him injured by shackles

This spurred a national policy change in how Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers restrain people with disabilities that are temporary or permanent.

“It is not human to treat me the way they did,” Garrido Diaz told Source NM.

The policy changes, sent to the attorneys who evoked the investigation, include new requirements for ICE to individually assess how people with disabilities are restrained and new guidance from the civil rights and civil liberties division within the federal Department of Homeland Security.

Sophia Genovese is the managing attorney at the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, the organization that filed the complaint last year on behalf of Garrido Diaz. She said this policy change will have a nationwide impact on people who are commonly being hurt by restraints.

It’s an update that’ll no longer affect Garrido Diaz since ICE deported him nine months ago, in September 2022.

Genovese said while her center doesn’t think there should be restraints or even detainment at all, this policy change is one step in the right direction.

“We hear constantly from folks that they feel like they’re being treated like criminals and they’re being treated worse than animals,” she said. “And the treatment doesn’t make sense for the type of proceeding that they’re in.”

A partial response to the complaint

This rule shift came nearly a year after New Mexico immigration lawyers raised issues Garrido Diaz faced at the Cibola County detention center in Milan, N.M. Along with physical abuse and medical neglect, they alleged due process violations and potential mail interference crimes.

The complaint filed for Garrido Diaz last year also alleged due process violations. Genovese said she hasn’t heard back yet about those issues and isn’t sure if she will.

Last year, CoreCivic — the private prison company that operates the Cibola detention center — told Source NM the complaint allegations from Garrido Diaz aren’t true and don’t reflect the center’s policies. 

CoreCivic spokesperson Brian Todd said the company stands by that statement.

He said Cibola has a detention standard compliance officer to make sure the center adheres to ICE standards and policies. He added that the facility is independently accredited by the American Correctional Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the justice system.

“Cibola, like all of our immigration facilities, is monitored very closely by our government partner and required to undergo regular review and audit processes to ensure an appropriate standard of living for all detainees,” Todd said via email.

Beyond having his sprained ankle shackled, Garrido Diaz said the Cibola County detention center guards mistreated him and the bathrooms were unsanitary.

ICE didn’t respond to a request for comment.

How this happened

After an immigration judge denied Garrido Diaz’s asylum claim last year, his deportation was imminent.

In July 2022, Garrido Diaz was sleeping at the detention center in Cibola County when federal guards woke him up around midnight to deport him, according to the federal investigation findings.

Garrido Diaz, having previously sustained an ankle injury, got his walker and joined the officers on a trek to be sent back to his home country, the homeland security complaint response says. Although it had been a few weeks prior since he injured his knee and ankle during recreation, the wound was still prominent.

CoreCivic officials previously diagnosed him with a grade three ankle sprain, something that can take weeks to heal.

Around 2:30 a.m., ICE officers put leg restraints on Garrido Diaz, according to homeland security. Garrido Diaz said he was in intense pain and asked repeatedly for immigration and customs enforcement officers to take off the restraints.

The shackles stayed on for nearly 19 hours, finally getting removed that evening around 9:20 p.m., the investigation found.

ICE denies that Garrido Diaz asked for the restraints to come off, according to the complaint response.

“ICE claimed that had he made the request, the restraints would have been adjusted if deemed necessary and/or appropriate according to policy,” the report reads.

A few weeks later, upon seeing an orthopedic specialist, the investigation revealed that Garrido Diaz was diagnosed with a grade four ankle sprain, worse than the original injury he sustained.

Now almost a year later, Garrido Diaz told Source NM that he still has pain in his ankle, especially when he drives a lot for work, which he does often. 

“My right foot, which is the one with my injury, hurts a lot,” he said. “Even to this day, it is still swollen.”

In his home country, he said there are parallels to poor conditions he lived through in the U.S. He said he’s constantly working to make enough to live and unable to speak up about political matters.

“I went to the United States looking for support,” he said. “And here (in my home country) are the same precarious conditions.”

He said he can’t afford to seek asylum in another country.

The federal findings

As a result of Garrido Diaz’s experience, ICE is required to do individualized assessments when restraining people with disabilities, according to the homeland security response.

It also says the DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office plans to give more guidance and recommendations to ICE on how to handle these types of situations.

According to the federal investigation, ICE shouldn’t have restrained Garrido Diaz around his legs like officers did in the first place because he had a clear disability.

Immigration officers are normally authorized to restrain people during transportation. But that’s not always the case for people who have disabilities.

Homeland security officer Peter Mina, who wrote the investigation findings and complaint response, said ICE officials should have known Garrido Diaz could’ve been an exception from his obvious difficulty walking and bandaged injuries as well as his medical records.

Mina said ICE officers could’ve removed or adjusted the leg restraints without any “undue financial or administrative burden” and still been within policy standards.

“ICE’s own policy allows for exceptions for individuals with physical disabilities or injury, and there is no indication in the record that Complainant posed a safety or security threat to himself or to those around him,” Mina wrote.

Garrido Diaz said he hopes the ICE guards and officers will actually follow the new requirement. But from his own experience, he said, nobody’s really supervising them or looking out for what the migrants are going through.

“From the bottom of my heart, I hope that my case and what I was able to expose will be of some use,” he said, “and that they apply with this policy and that no one goes through what I went through.”

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