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Another Death in US Immigration Detention

Apparent Suicide in a System with Subpar Medical Health Care

Another person died in the United States’ sprawling and abusive immigration detention system last week.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Efrain De La Rosa, 40, was “discovered unresponsive in his cell” last Tuesday after apparent “self-inflicted strangulation.” Mr. De La Rosa, who was originally from Mexico, was the third person to die in CoreCivic’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in a little over a year. He was the eighth person in US immigration detention to die this fiscal year, which started October 1, 2017. Last fiscal year, there were more deaths in immigration detention than at any time since 2009.

We don’t yet know the exact circumstances of Mr. De La Rosa’s death. Unfortunately, what we do know is that a huge proportion of all deaths in immigration detention are linked to dangerously inadequate medical care.

Of 15 recent deaths in immigration detention, independent medical analysis conducted for Human Rights Watch indicates that in eight, subpar medical care contributed to the fatalities. Of the 52 deaths that happened in immigration detention for which we have independent medical analysis since 2010, 23 of these fatalities fall into that same category.

People are dying in immigration detention from unreasonable delays in accessing treatment and poor practitioner care – including a pattern of nurses practicing outside of the scope of their licenses and botched emergency responses. We’ve also tracked a disturbing series of suicides linked to placing people with psychosocial disabilities in isolation, an abusive practice.

In May of last year, JeanCarlo Jimenez-Joseph, a 27-year-old who had lived most of his life in the United States, died by suicide at the Stewart Detention Center. Mr. Jimenez-Joseph had a known history of schizophrenia when he was ordered to 20 days in solitary confinement at the center. He died after 19 days in isolation. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his death and found that Mr. Jimenez-Joseph “repeatedly displayed suicidal behavior, but never got the mental health care he needed. He was also placed in an isolation cell that contained a known suicide hazard, a ceiling sprinkler head, upon which he affixed his makeshift noose.”

Immigration detention can be deadly. Congress should take note, and refuse to fund any expansion of ICE’s capacity to detain more, and more vulnerable, people.

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