Things That Matter

He Was In ICE Detention For Five Months, Now This Cuban Migrant Is Dead And His Family Wants Answers

The deaths of migrants in US government custody have sparked outrage and cast a spotlight on the treatment of immigrants detained by authorities. But, despite the outrage and grief, little seems to be being done to improve the conditions immigrants are being held in. 

In fact, recent reports indicate that the Trump administration is actually moving to make life for migrants even more miserable (and dangerous) while in  government custody. From not providing for basic sanitary needs to withholding critical vaccinations and even deporting migrants in need of life-saving medical care, this administration is putting countless lives at risk. 

Given the administration’s contempt of migrants coming to the US to seek asylum or simply better opportunities, the deaths of migrants are not at all surprising. Although they’re largely an avoidable tragedy — until Trump took office deaths of migrants in US custody were exceedingly rare — the situation in detention centers is likely to get worse before it improves. 

At least eight people have died in ICE custody at adult detention centers this year, according to information released by ICE and compiled by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Here are those who we’ve lost since January 2019:

Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, 43, Cuba

ICE officials confirmed the death of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz on Wednesday. The 43-year-old man was being held in an isolation area known as “the pit” at the Richwood Correctional Center, a private facility operated by the firm LaSalle Corrections.

“The preliminary cause of death appears to be self-inflicted strangulation, but the case is currently under investigation,” ICE said in a statement to El Nuevo Herald.

Hernandez-Diaz, who first entered ICE custody in May after being apprehended at the El Paso Port of Entry, feared being deported to Cuba. The man recently appeared before an immigration court, where relatives said he told guards that he would leave the detention center “free or dead.”

Hernandez-Diaz’s cell mates told the publication that he once organized a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions at the detention center. “They were hopeful that they would be freed or at least released on parole, but months went by and they were still detained,” one relative said of the strike. “In Louisiana, the detainees face very bad conditions. They are treated badly, and the authorities don’t believe that they are politically persecuted.”

Abel Reyes-Clemente, 54, Mexico

While in ICE custody at an Arizona corrections center, Reyes-Clemente displayed signs of the flu and was “placed into medical observation” on April 1, ICE said. Two days later, facility personnel found him around 6 a.m., unresponsive and not breathing.

This case is a particular reminder of the cruelty of the administration’s policies. Reyes-Clemente likely died of complications related to the flu yet it was just recently announced that the government will not provide flu vaccines to migrants for the upcoming flu season.

Simratpal Singh, 21, India

The Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner listed suicide as the manner of death and hanging as the primary cause of death on its website. Autopsy results have not yet been released. 

Unidentified Man, 40, Mexico

The man died at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, after being apprehended by CBP agents for illegal re-entry early Sunday morning, according to a CBP news release. Hours after being apprehended, the unnamed man was evaluated by medical personnel at the Border Patrol’s processing facility near Paso Del Norte Port of Entry.

CBP said the man was transported to the medical center after being diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, liver failure and renal failure. He died later that day.

Johana Medina Leon, 25, El Salvador

Credit: DIVERSIDAD SIN FRONTERAS / Facebook

The cause of death for Medina Leon, the asylum seeker who died on June 1, remains unclear. Like Roxana Hernandez, a transgender woman who died in ICE custody last summer, Medina Leon was diagnosed with HIV while she was detained.

Medina Leon, known to her friends as “Joa,” became ill while detained at the Otero County Processing Center, a private detention center in New Mexico where the ACLU and the Santa Fe Dreamer Project recently alleged poor treatment of, and “unconscionable conditions,” for LGBTQ immigrants.

Unidentified Woman, 40, Honduras

The woman, who was not identified, died shortly after being apprehended after crossing the border.

The woman, who crossed the border without authorization in Eagle Pass, Texas, at about 6:20 a.m., collapsed about 25 minutes later at the Eagle Pass South Station. In a statement, Border Patrol said agents and officers administered medical care until emergency medical services arrived at 6:55 a.m. She was taken to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The tragedy marked the second time in less than 36 hours that a person had died immediately following their perilous migration from their home in Central America, through Mexico and across the southwest border.

Yimi Alexis Balderramos-Torres, 30, Honduras

Balderramos-Torres had previously been apprehended by immigration officials in El Paso, Texas, on May 17, according to a statement released by ICE. The man was accompanied by his son when he was encountered by Border Patrol on May 17, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Balderramos-Torres had been sent back to Mexico under a Trump administration program that requires Central American immigrants to wait outside the US as their asylum cases make their way through the immigration courts. On May 27, Balderramos-Torres again crossed the border without authorization and was picked up by local police in the US during a traffic stop.

On June 30, Balderramos-Torres was found “unresponsive,” and medical officials at the facility were unable to revive him. He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead Sunday morning. A cause of death is pending as officials conduct an autopsy.

Pedro Arriago-Santoya, 44, Mexico

Pedro Arriago-Santoya was awaiting deportation at the Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin prior to his death at an area hospital.

Medical staff at a hospital in Columbus determined the man’s preliminary cause of death as cardiopulmonary arrest, followed by multi-organ system failure; endocarditis, an infection in the heart’s inner lining; dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease; and respiratory failure, ICE said in a statement

In custody since April, Arriago-Santoya told immigration authorities he felt stomach pain on July 20, leading a nurse practitioner to send him via ambulance to a hospital in Cuthbert. Medical staff suspected he had gall bladder disease, ICE said, and, the next day, sent him to the hospital where he died waiting for surgery consultation.

Marvin Antonio González, 32, El Salvador

Credit: Jose Cabezas / Reuters

Like many Salvadoran migrants before them, Marvin Gonzalez and his eight-year-old daughter Joselyn set off from their farm surrounded by corn and sugarcane one morning in early July with dreams of better lives in the United States. 

Gonzalez, 32, planned to reunite the girl with her mother in North Carolina, and later send for his current wife from El Salvador. 

The two made it across the U.S. border in late July. Then their luck turned. After they were detained in El Paso, Gonzalez died from heart-related causes that seemed to have flared up suddenly.

Norma Palacios, 23, the wife of the younger Gonzalez, said she had planned to eventually join her husband in the United States, bringing along their daughter Tifany, but had changed her mind.

“Our dream was to be together there, but now with what happened, I don’t have the courage to go alone,” she said in an interview with Reuters.

Roberto Rodriguez-Espinoza, 37, Mexico

Staff at the jail saw Rodriguez-Espinoza “acting confused” on Sept. 7 and transferred him to Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital in Woodstock for evaluation, ICE said. He was transferred to Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital the next day, where he was diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage.

He was transferred to Central DuPage for a neurosurgery consultation and became unresponsive during a neurological exam, ICE said.

Many of these deaths were likely preventable. Human Rights Watch asked for an independent medical analysis of 15 recent deaths in immigration detention; in eight cases, subpar medical care contributed or led to the fatalities. The same is true for 23 of the 52 deaths in immigration detention for which we have such analysis since 2010.

ICE has dramatically expanded the number of people in its dangerous system, including particularly vulnerable people like children and pregnant women. 

By locking up people who aren’t a flight risk or a threat to public safety, the US guarantees a ballooning, abusive, and expensive system, despite the existence of more cost-effective and humane alternatives to detention. 

ICE Might Be Ignoring California’s Ban On Private Immigration Detention Centers

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ICE Might Be Ignoring California’s Ban On Private Immigration Detention Centers

Ronen Tivony / ZUMA

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) posted a request for new private migrant detention centers in California, a mere five days after Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill effectively banning such detention facilities. 

California is the first state to ban privately-run, for-profit immigration detention centers popular with the Trump administration. The new law will also ban private prisons and put a stop on new contracts after January 1, 2020, along with phasing out existing detention centers by 2028, according to the LA Times

However, on October 16, ICE posted a request for offers on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website to open up at least four new for-profit detention centers. Legislators and advocates believe ICE is attempting tp circumvent the law before the new year’s deadline by rushing new contracts through. 

Senator Kamala Harris calls out ICE’s controversial tactic.

“Let’s be clear: By rushing through new contracts before California’s ban takes effect, ICE is violating the spirit of California law and risks wasting taxpayer dollars in an attempt to lock away even more human beings,” said California Senator Kamala Harris. “We need to fight back.” 

In ICE’s request, according to Mother Jones’ review of FBO documents, they’re looking for “turnkey ready” detention centers in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles for “the exclusive use of ICE and the ICE detainee population.” ICE wants approximately 6,750 beds spread across the four facilities with contracts that would last five to 15 years. 

“The facilities shall be turnkey ready at the beginning of contract performance and able to provide housing, medical care, transportation, guard services, meals, and the day to day needs for ICE detainees,” the FBO solicitation says. “Due to mission needs, proposals for new construction will not be accepted for this solicitation.”

ICE already has four privately-run detention centers in California. 

“I’m not prepared to allow ICE to improperly violate AB 32 and hurt Californians,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta who wrote the bill. 

ICE has tried to undermine’s California’s status as a sanctuary city before.

“ICE is doing everything they can to circumvent California law,” Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, told the Desert Sun. “It’s not surprising that ICE is doing this.”

It may not come as a surprise to Shah because ICE has used unscrupulous tactics before. Adelanto, the second-largest detention center in the country, was independently owned by GEO Group. When the city terminated its contract with ICE and GEO, the very next day ICE organized a deal directly with GEO, last June.

According to Desert Sun, “A September 2018 report from Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found significant health and safety risks at Adelanto, including the issue of detainees hanging nooses made from bedsheets. At least three inmates have died at the facility since 2015 and seven inmates attempted suicide between December 2016 and October 2017.”

ICE criticizes California’s new law. 

ICE spokesperson Lori Haley claimed the only people that will suffer from the ban are California residents. 

“If this law takes effect, ICE would simply have to transfer individuals a greater distance from their arrest location to other facilities outside the state,” the agency said. “Thus, the impact would be felt by residents of California who would be forced to travel greater distances to visit friends and family in custody, and not by ICE.”

Advocates might say that convenience isn’t the issue at hand when it comes to for-profit detention centers. Nevertheless, Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration lawyer in the Bay Area claims that the rush to push through contracts might be evidence ICE has realized it won’t be too easy to transport migrants states and that they would actually have to detain fewer people, according to the LA Times. 

“They pick people up at certain points, have to process them and get them to a detention facility usually by evening,” he said. “The reality is they have a lot of protocols they have to go through and manpower considerations they have to deal with.”

For-profit immigration centers have got to go according to advocates. 

Over 70 percent of detained migrants are held in privately owned facilities, like GEO Group and CoreCivic. The Hill found that both organizations donated to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2017, then received $985 million in contracts with ICE. 

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found food safety issues, nooses, restrictive segregation practices, and unreported security incidents ran rampant at private detention centers, who are known to cut corners because they are businesses. Instead of holding the owners or managers of these facilities responsible with the usual financial penalties, the IG suggested ICE waived such fees and allowed the conditions to continue. 

“These twisted somersaults to push and bend federal protocols are a sign of desperation,” Bonta said. “It’s what you’d expect from a dying industry.”

His Family Begged ICE To Keep Him On Life Support Until They Could Say Goodbye But The Agency Didn’t Listen

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His Family Begged ICE To Keep Him On Life Support Until They Could Say Goodbye But The Agency Didn’t Listen

CoreCivic

Though much of the nation’s attention has focused on the plight of migrants crammed into overcrowded Customs and Border Protection facilities along the southern border, Abienwi’s case highlights concerns over the immigration detention system in the interior of the U.S.

ICE detains more than 52,000 migrants a day in a sprawling network of 225 detention centers and jails spread throughout the country. Government watchdogs have highlighted problems in those facilities, including nooses found in cells, detainees on hunger strikes and substandard medical care.

Abienwi is the ninth migrant to die in ICE custody over the past year, according to ICE data. His family and supporters said they want to know how that could’ve happened to a healthy man who had no medical problems before his confinement in the USA

An asylum-seeking migrant detained by ICE was pulled off life support after his relatives said they requested that doctors continue the lifesaving measures.

ICE said Nebane Abienwi, a father of six, died Oct. 1 after being detained at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center following a “medical emergency.” Since then, his relatives have reportedly been unable to obtain all the information about his death they have requested and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel overseas to identify the body and bring it home.

His relatives say the move transpired despite their requests that life support be continued, according to USA Today.

“We did not approve” Abienwi’s removal from a ventilator, his brother Akongnwi, who requested he be identified only by his last name, told USA Today. “One hundred percent, we did not.”

More than a month later, the man’s body remains in the USA.

His relatives said they have been given little information about his death, and his brother has twice been denied a visa to travel to the USA to identify the body and accompany it back home to Cameroon.

Ever since, Abienwi’s youngest brother said he has been scrambling between U.S. embassies in South Africa and Cameroon, pleading for a visa to travel to California to get some answers.

He said he wants to make sure it’s really his brother’s body and to perform cultural rites on the body before the casket is sealed. He wants to know why doctors removed the ventilator that kept his brother breathing after he asked them to keep it in place until a relative could arrive.

Abienwi died after becoming critically ill while in ICE custody and was placed on a ventilator.

Akongnwi, speaking from a hotel room in Cameroon on Monday, said he spoke by phone with ICE officials several times Sept. 30, when they first called to say his brother had become critically ill and was on a ventilator. He said the ICE officials passed the phone to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center officials, who explained that his brother was bleeding profusely in his brain and a ventilator was the only thing keeping him breathing.

Akongnwi said he shared the information with his brother’s wife and others in the family, and they all agreed Abienwi should be maintained on life support until a relative could be by his side.

“The family spoke and said, ‘We believe in miracles. It has happened to other families, why not ours?’ ” Akongnwi said. During the next call with ICE, “I made clear that he should remain like that and the family would decide if we want to take him off that machine or not.”

report released by ICE detailed what happened next.

On Oct. 1, at 12:05 p.m., two doctors analyzed Abienwi’s examination results, concluding they “were consistent with brain death and pronounced him dead.” Thirty minutes later, Abienwi’s family was notified, according to the report. Two hours later, hospital staff “discontinued Mr. Abienwi’s ventilator support,” the report said.

Akongnwi, who was in the process of submitting his passport information to U.S. officials and planning to fly to California, said he was never informed that his brother was taken off life support. He said he learned of that decision only when contacted by a reporter who shared ICE’s summary of the case.

“They said, ‘It’s very unfortunate, but your brother didn’t make it,’ ” he said. 

Sadly, this isn’t the first time this migrant detention center has been accused of substandard care.

The Otay Mesa facility, which is owned and operated by the private company CoreCivic, has been accused of not adequately addressing detainees’ health issues in the past. In February, more than 70 detainees in the facility signed a letter saying they had experienced racism and medical neglect at the facility.

The internal ICE report regarding Abienwi’s death shows that Abienwi, who’d already suffered from hypertension before being put in ICE custody, fell off his bunk bed on Sept. 26. After the fall, he appeared to be confused and sweating, and had difficulty moving his left arm and leg, the report says. Doctors initially concluded that he was fine, aside from having elevated blood pressure, but a subsequent exam found that he was suffering from internal bleeding.