Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury deserves big props for how she led from the front lines this week after conflicting reports arose of inhumane conditions at a detention facility in her 1st Congressional District.
Stansbury made an unannounced visit Monday to the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia following an inspector general’s report late last week that said the jail was so unsafe and unsanitary all its migrant detainees should be immediately transferred elsewhere.
The disturbing report from a trusted source prompted Stansbury, US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández and US Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, all New Mexico Democrats, to release a statement March 18 calling on the Biden administration “to act swiftly to address the inhumane and unsafe conditions” at the detention facility. The ACLU of New Mexico went further, calling for “the immediate release, not transfer,” of people detained at the facility.
Meanwhile US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, the private company that owns and operates the jail, cried foul. ICE said the report released by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General on March 18 “ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions.” CoreCivic said the report was not just flawed, but also “deeply unethical.” A company lawyer says photos of clogged sinks and toilets were taken in vacant housing units, floors depicted as wet were being cleaned at the time, and inspectors staged a photo of a detainee using a utility sink for drinking water.
And rather than sit back for another round of he said/he said, Stansbury took that essential extra step that translates into good government. On Monday, she dropped by to see the inside of the jail with her own eyes.
“What we saw in the facility did not match the OIG report. I want to be completely clear about that,” Stansbury told reporters outside as hail pelted her. “The sinks were working. We didn’t see mould. The facilities were clean. Our understanding what this is the normal operations of how the facility is maintained and managed day-to-day.”
According to KOAT-TV’s reporting, Stansbury contradicted the OIG’s report there wasn’t hot water inside the facility. The Albuquerque congresswoman said she noticed one problem — a clogged sink — but it was in an area not housing inmates or detainees. “There was a smell of sewer coming out of one of the blocks where folks are currently not being housed and it was explained to us that they’re doing plumbing repairs currently,” she said.
It’s noteworthy Stansbury does not support privately run prisons, giving her site visit report all the more credibility. A spokesperson for the congresswoman said Thursday the situation is developing and Stansbury remains concerned about alleged civil liberty violations occurring at the jail and reports of chronic understaffing.
Stansbury says she is following up with the OIG to see where reporting may have gone wrong and to make sure any further findings represent reality.
CoreCivic, which receives about $2 million per month from ICE to operate the 700-person capacity jail, also wants answers. “We’re asking for an immediate review of the conduct of the inspectors,” the Brentwood, Tennessee-based company said in a letter to federal officials.
Stansbury and other federal and state leaders need to stay on it and get to the bottom of this. The allegations of “egregious conditions” contained in the scathing OIG report are very serious. So are claims rogue federal inspectors manufactured evidence “to achieve preconceived conclusions.” If true they are a violation of the public trust and waste of public tax dollars.
There’s no substitute for leaders demanding to see the facts for themselves and their constituents, and for that alone, Stansbury truly earned her congressional salary this week.
This editorial first appeared in the . It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.