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. 

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