September 3, 2019
José Olivares has written several powerful articles on immigrant detention, mental health, and the abuse of solitary confinement. Last week, on August 29, he published a new piece that focuses on the death of Efrain Romero de la Rosa, who committed suicide while in detention at the Stewart Detention Facility in Georgia last year. A year before Romero killed himself, Jeancarlo Jimenez-Joseph took his own life after being placed in solitary confinement for an extended period at Stewart Detention Facility - the results of an investigation into his Jeancarlo’s death was released just two weeks ago finding that the staff did not follow appropriate procedures. Stewart Detention Facility is operated by CoreCivic. A campaign to #ShutDownStewart is ongoing.
Olivares latest article is excellent in weaving the personal story of Efrain Romero de la Rosa together with systemic issues that shape conditions at Stewart and elsewhere in the landscape of the U.S.’s ever evolving incarceration nightmare. From the article:
Romero’s case stands as a tragic exemplar of an immigration detention system gone off the rails. Solitary confinement is frequently used by corrections staff as a means to punish detainees; a Bangladeshi man told The Intercept in 2018 that guards at the CoreCivic-run Stewart Detention Center — the same facility where Romero was held — sent him to solitary confinement because of a dispute over $8 for prison labor.
The use of solitary confinement in immigration detention is growing and has, in tandem, become a political issue. An investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and The Intercept, which included testimony from a whistleblower, found that the use of solitary was a go-to practice to discipline detainees and deal with troubled cases, rather than the last resort prescribed by detention standards. After the release of the investigation, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., condemned the use of solitary and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called for congressional hearings on the practice.
While there has been recent focus on immigrants deaths related to failure to provide appropriate care for people with documented mental health problems, there are many other deaths in detention, most ultimately shown to be related to abusive conditions or lack of access to health services.
In January 2018, Yulio Castro-Garrido, a 33-year-old father, died after being held in the facility. He had no health problems when he first entered Stewart but succumbed to pneumonia, a lung infection, and viral influenza. Castro-Garrido was working at the facility’s kitchen while waiting to be deported to Cuba.
“I believe the conditions inside have to be so bad that a flu can turn into pneumonia very quickly,” Frank Alain Suarez, Castro-Garrido’s brother, told The Intercept last year. “And I guess the medical care is so horrible, no one could catch it in time.”
In June, attorneys with Project South provided The Takeaway with a copy of ICE’s Detainee Death Review for Castro-Garrido’s case. According to the record, even after reporting his illness to staff, Castro-Garrido worked food service duties under CoreCivic supervision, potentially transmitting his illness to others. He even worked in the kitchen on the day he was taken from the facility in an ambulance. Eventually, Castro-Garrido had to be carried out by his roommate, another detained migrant, because he could barely walk.
This August, Pedro Arriago-Santoya died in ICE custody, after being taken to a hospital from Stewart. Little is known about the 44-year-old migrant’s death, other than that he died of a cardiopulmonary arrest.
At least 25 migrants have died in ICE detention during the past two years. Last summer, a report by Human Rights Watch documented systemic problems in the medical care provided at ICE detention facilities. In 14 of 15 detainee deaths analyzed for the report, Human Rights Watch’s experts found evidence of “subpar and dangerous practices” by medical staff. (The report mentions two deaths at Stewart, but they were not included in the analysis because little public information was available about those deaths at the time the report was being complied.)
Romero died just 20 days after the Human Rights Watch report was release
Say their names….
Deaths in detention are increasing. Since January of 2017, at least 25 adults have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Several others have died in the custody of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Adults who died in ICE custody since April 2018 (Table from ICE website, names link to official reports on their deaths):
April 10, 2018
May 16, 2018
May 25, 2018
June 12, 2018
July 10, 2018
July 25, 2018
November 1, 2018
November 18, 2018
November 30, 2018
April 3, 2019
May 3, 2019
June 30, 2019
In December, medical examiners concluded that 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, who also died in CBP custody, succumbed to "a rapidly progressive infection" that shut down her vital organs.
Seven months before Jakelin's death, 1-year-old Mariee Juarez died after being released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. (Note: her mother testified before Congress in July about conditions at CBP facilities).
Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, a 2½-year-old, died this month (June) after being detained by Border Patrol in early April and spending about a month in a hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Carlos, 16, had been held in such a facility before being diagnosed with influenza A. He died May 20. The teenager had spent one week in CBP custody, even though legally he should have not been there for more than three days.
Felipe Gómez Alonzo, 8, also was held in CBP custody for nearly one week before he died on Christmas Eve. Medical investigators later determined the boy had been suffering from the flu while he was under the agency’s care.
Two other children have died in Office of Refugee Resettlement custody.
Darlyn Valle, 10, died in September after entering ORR custody, but her death was revealed to the public nearly eight months after it had happened.
Of course, throughout the entire enforcement apparatus people die - in federal prisons, along the border, and even those shot across the border by Border Patrol. Our enforcement machine has killed hundreds of people in the last two years, thousands since the 1990s. But we know these names, and can say them, honor them, and fight to change the conditions that led to their deaths.