ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Around Albuquerque, you’ll see billboards selling goods, advertising lawyers, and now you might also see some calling for the shutdown of the Torrance County Detention Facility. So, what’s that all about?

It’s the latest push by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) to highlight what they and federal investigators have said are ‘unsafe’ conditions at the privately owned and operated Torrance County Detention Center in Estancia. The facility has been used by government agencies such as the U.S. Marshals Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to facility audits.

The facility has been in and out of the news for years. Last year, federal investigators released the results of a surprise inspection of the facility after they found “critical staffing shortages and violations of ICE detention standards that compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees.” As a result, the Office of the Inspector General recommended ICE removes all detainees. ICE has pushed back against these allegations.

New Mexico politicians have also called out the Torrance County Detention Facility over issues revealed by federal investigators. Democratic Senators Marin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján asked ICE to terminate contracts with the facility and transfer or release detainees out of the facility.

Brian Todd, the public affairs manager for CoreCivic, which operates the facility, objected to allegations in a statement to KRQE News 13: “The reality is that we provide a safe, humane and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us at TCDF [Torrance County Detention Facility] and are constantly striving to deliver an even better standard of care,” Todd says.

But the ACLU-NM wants ICE to terminate contracts at the facility. They’re hoping the billboards get the attention of locals and ICE, which has a field office in Albuquerque.

“It’s outrageous that despite the mountains of evidence showing how dangerous the Torrance County Detention Facility is, ICE and the Biden administration have not only continued using it but increased the number of people detained there,” Rebecca Sheff, a senior staff attorney at ACLU-NM, said in a press release. “It’s time ICE terminates its contract and stops detaining people at this facility – including many asylum seekers who have faced harrowing journeys to the U.S. seeking protection.”

KRQE News 13 is unable to independently verify claims about the number of detainees at the facility. ACLU-NM relies on counts such as those on website of New Mexico Congressional Representative Melanie Stansbury.

Brian Todd, from CoreCivic, calls ACLU-NM’s characterization “specious and sensationalized” and denies the allegations made by Rebecca Sheff at ACLU-NM. Todd also points out that ICE has disagreed with the idea that the facility does not provide a safe environment, as noted in their response to a 2022 investigation.