October 17, 2019
Roylan Hernandez-Diaz crossed the border in El Paso in May this year, requesting asylum. He was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and placed in detention to await processing of his asylum claim. In August he “passed” a credible fear interview, meaning a review of his case indicated that there was enough reason to believe that his life would be under threat if returned to Cuba to warrant continuing with the asylum process. Yet, ICE continued to keep him in detention.
In August, ICE was holding more than 55,000 people in detention. At the same time, the agency was decrying a lack of resources and the Department of Homeland Security was shifting money from other accounts in order to pay for ICE’s over-budget detention priorities. And yet, Roylan was just one of close to 9,000 asylees still in detention after passing a credible fear interview.
Roylan began a hunger strike to protest his continued detention. He was placed in solitary confinement, and yesterday he is reported to have hung himself in an apparent suicide while still in solitary confinement at the Richwood Correctional Facility, a private prison run by LaSalle Corrections in Louisiana. From Buzzfeed:
In September, Hernandez-Diaz again sought to be released from US detention. On Oct. 8, the ICE office in New Orleans denied his release once more, the report stated. A day later, his case in immigration court was reset to January. Advocates sued ICE earlier this year... over its low rate of release for asylum-seekers in the southern region.
Two days after he was denied his release from ICE custody, the detention center segregated Hernandez-Diaz from the other inmates after he threatened a hunger strike.
While officers at the detention center noticed he had been eating meals on Oct. 11 and 12, by Tuesday they told ICE officials that Hernandez-Diaz had missed his “ninth consecutive meal and declared a hunger strike, citing his frustration with the immigration process.”
Then, on Tuesday just after 2 p.m., medical staffers at the detention center declared him dead of suicide in the cell.
The case needs to be investigated independently.
Hernandez-Diaz's wife, Yarelis Gutierrez, 43, said she last spoke to him on Oct. 9 after an immigration court hearing. She described her husband as angry and disappointed after being asked to provide more evidence about his persecution in Cuba because it was difficult to obtain, especially from within ICE detention.
"He told me he was going to participate in a hunger strike because of the abuse he endured in detention," Gutierrez told BuzzFeed News. "He never said he was going to hurt or kill himself. This is all news to me and I don't believe it's true."
Roylan is the second person to die in ICE custody in the last two weeks. On October 2, Nebane Abienwi, a 37 year old asylum seeker from Cameroon died at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego. Otay Mesa is also run by a private company - CoreCivic.
Last fiscal year (Oct 2018 to Sept 2019), eight adults died while in ICE custody and another eight children died during, or immediately after release from detention by Border Patrol or the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
There is no reason that Roylan should have still been incarcerated, certainly not after his affirmative credible fear finding. Now he is dead.