Congresswoman Melanie Stansbury deserves big props for the way she led from the front lines this week after conflicting reports of inhumane conditions at a detention center in her 1st congressional district.
Stansbury made an unannounced visit Monday to the Torrance County Detention Center in Estancia following a report from an inspector general late last week who said the jail was so unsafe and unsanitary that all of its migrant detainees should be immediately transferred elsewhere.
The disturbing report from a reliable source prompted Stansbury, U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, and U.S. senses Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, all New Mexico Democrats, to issue a statement March 18 calling on the Biden administration “to act quickly to address the inhumane and dangerous conditions” at the detention center. The ACLU of New Mexico went further, calling for the “immediate release, not transfer,” of those held at the facility.
Meanwhile, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, the private company that owns and operates the prison, have cried foul. ICE said the report released by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general on March 18 “ignored the facts presented to it in order to reach preconceived conclusions.” CoreCivic said the report was not only flawed, but also “deeply unethical.” A lawyer for the company said photos of clogged sinks and toilets were taken in vacant homes, floors depicted as wet were cleaned at the time and inspectors staged a photo of a inmate using a sink for drinking water.
And rather than sit down for another round he/she said, Stansbury has taken that essential extra step that results in good government. On Monday, she went to see inside the prison with her own eyes.
“What we saw at the facility didn’t match the OIG report. I want to be absolutely clear on that,” Stansbury told reporters outside as hail pounded it. We did not see any mold The facilities were clean Our understanding was that these were normal operations of how the facility is maintained and run on a day to day basis.
According to KOAT-TV reports, Stansbury contradicted the OIG report that there was no hot water inside the facility. The Albuquerque congresswoman said she noticed a problem — a clogged sink — but it was in an area that had no inmates or inmates. “There was a smell of sewage coming out of one of the blocks where people are currently not housed and we were told they were doing some plumbing repairs right now,” she said.
It should be noted that Stansbury does not support private prisons, which gives its on-site visit report all the more credibility. A spokesman for the MP said on Thursday the situation was evolving and Stansbury remained concerned about allegations of civil liberties abuses at the prison and reports of a chronic understaffing.
Stansbury says she is following the OIG to see where reports may have gone wrong and to make sure any further findings represent reality.
CoreCivic, which receives about $2 million a month from ICE to run the 700-person prison, also wants answers. “We call for an immediate review of the inspectors’ conduct,” the Brentwood, Tennessee-based company said in a letter to federal officials.
Stansbury and other federal and state leaders need to stick with it and get to the bottom of it. The allegations of “flagrant conditions” contained in the scathing OIG report are very serious. The same goes for rogue federal inspectors who fabricated evidence “to come to preconceived conclusions.” If true, they are a violation of public trust and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
There is no substitute for leaders demanding to see the facts for themselves and their constituents, and for that alone, Stansbury really earned his congressional paycheck this week.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.