Abuses Escalate in ICE Detention Centers

Overreach abroad, hypocrisy at home

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Illustration by Rose Collins

Twenty-four people have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody since Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. These deaths are not random or accidental. They are the result of government-inflicted human rights abuses that began with ICE’s establishment in 2003 and have only worsened since.

Roylán Hernández Díaz and his wife Yarelis Gutiérrez traveled from Cuba to Texas in May to seek asylum in the U.S., fearing Hernández Díaz’s persecution by the Cuban government. In June, ICE officials declared Hernández Díaz’s fear credible. The couple was detained afterward, but Gutiérrez was released within a month. ICE then sent Hernández Díaz to Richwood Correctional Center, a for-profit prison in rural Louisiana partnered with ICE, where he spent the next four months.  

Hernández Díaz died in ICE custody on Oct. 15.

ICE said the death was a suicide, but Gutiérrez says otherwise. She told Telemundo 51 that her husband had been suffering from glandular inflammation for the last two weeks of his life and had pleaded with ICE officials to let him see a doctor. According to several people in his cell, Hernández Díaz went on a hunger strike for four days to bring attention to his medical needs. ICE never let him see a doctor.

Hernández Díaz’s death is a tragedy. The worst part is his is not an isolated case. One death at the hands of ICE is enough to call for the agency’s reform. Twenty-four is enough to call for its abolishment.

It’s time we start calling these calamities what they are — human rights abuses. 

In response to Hernández Díaz’s death, the agency said in a statement, “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases.”

ICE’s review process includes consulting with private contractor the Nakamoto Group. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General has repeatedly criticized the Nakamoto Group for cutting corners on investigations and producing inaccurate reports on facility conditions. 

The Nakamoto Group was involved in an investigation into an ICE detention center in Adelanto, California, in October 2018 after 24-year-old Osny Kidd was abducted outside his Los Angeles apartment and taken to Adelanto. Kidd was a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient.

“I was in handcuffs from feet to waist to arms,” Kidd told NPR. “I arrived there in chains.” 

After 76 days in ICE custody, Kidd told NPR he was strip searched, subject to filthy conditions, denied medications and briefly placed in solitary confinement. The Nakamoto Group found no problems at the Adelanto detention center.

Nakamoto Group President Jennifer Nakamoto’s grandparents were detained in U.S. internment camps during World War II. Now, her company is complicit in the abuse of thousands of people across the U.S. who are being detained in a contemporary wave of concentration camps.

The U.S. government is quick to denounce any foreign government that inflicts human rights abuses upon its people, yet it turns a blind eye when its own agency violates the humanity of 51,845 people — the number currently in ICE custody.

Reforming ICE is not enough. An agency this corrupt and inhumane has no place operating in the U.S., or anywhere else. We have a human rights crisis in our country and our government must put an end to it. Now.