An NBC News analysis has found that 24 immigrants have died while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Trump administration. That number doesn’t include immigrants who died while in the custody of other federal agencies.
Of the 24, three died in the past three months. And as the number of immigrants ICE detains on a given day exceeded 52,000 earlier this month, that number coupled with inadequate infrastructure and medical care revealed in recent government reports have prompted advocates to warn that the number of deaths could increase.
“What we’re seeing is a reckless and unprecedented expansion of a system that is punitive, harmful and costly,” Katharina Obser, senior policy adviser at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told NBC. “The U.S. government is not even doing the bare minimum to ensure [immigrants] are getting the medical care and the mental health care they need.”
The three latest deaths include a 54-year-old man from Mexico, a 21-year-old man from India, and a 25-year-old asylum seeker.
The man from Mexico, Abel Reyes-Clemente, died in a cell in Arizona in April. In a press release, ICE said he died due to complications from the flu. But a county medical examiner determined that he died from cirrhosis, diabetes, and heart disease, NBC reported.
A month later, Simratpal Singh, from India, died by hanging in his cell. ICE’s press release said only that he was found unresponsive in his cell.
On June 1, asylum seeker Johana Medina Leon died in a hospital in Texas after being held for six weeks in ICE’s custody. The cause of that death is under investigation, although she was diagnosed with HIV while she was detained.
An ICE spokesperson, however, told NBC that deaths in ICE custody continue to be “exceedingly rare.”
A report published this week by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General shared the results of inspections at four ICE detention facilities, three of them privately owned by the company GEO Group Inc. The inspections took place between May and November last year, and were prompted by concerns from immigrant rights groups and complaints to the Office of Inspector General.
Inspectors found “immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards” at ICE detention facilities in Adelanto, CA, and Essex County, NJ. Those findings included “nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues,” the report said.
Inspectors found that:
All four facilities had issues with expired food, which puts detainees at risk for food-borne illnesses. At three facilities, we found that segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights. Two facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units. Bathrooms in two facilities’ detainee housing units were dilapidated and moldy. At one facility, detainees were not provided appropriate clothing and hygiene items to ensure they could properly care for themselves.
The report highlights the fact that detainees are held in civil, not criminal custody, therefore detention conditions should not be punitive. But upon inspection, “serious issues” were discovered with “administrative and disciplinary segregation of detainees.” The practices were determined by the office to “violate ICE detention standards and infringe on detainee rights.”
And the NBC report notes that considerable medical neglect had led to some preventable deaths.
Earlier this week, Young Turks published a memo it had obtained that was addressed to former acting ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence. In the memo, a supervisor for ICE’s Health Services Corps wrote that IHSC is “severely dysfunctional and unfortunately preventable harm and death to detainees has occurred.”
The supervisor detailed more than 12 cases in which ICE failed to provide adequate medical treatment to detainees, and two of the cases involved the deaths of detained immigrants, as Splinter’s Samantha Grasso noted earlier this week.