The death of an undocumented immigrant in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail has ignited protests among growing concern about the murky circumstances surrounding his death.
Rolando Meza Espinoza died earlier this month in ICE custody at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, according to his family and lawyers. Meza Espinoza was a 35-year-old father of three from Honduras.
“He was a good person. A good man. A good husband, a good father. He was hardworking,” his partner of 10 years, Darleny Rivera, told the New York Daily News. “I asked ‘Why’ if he hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In response to his death, an ICE spokesperson told the Daily News that he “died of complications of a previous medical condition.”
His family told the paper that he had a number of medical conditions, including cirrhosis, anemia, and diabetes. But, his lawyer told the Daily News, he was allegedly only provided medication for his diabetes.
Supporters and immigrants’ rights groups rallied outside of the Hudson County Correctional Facility on Monday in Meza Espinoza’s memory and for other immigrants detained there. In 2016, the jail was the subject of multiple complaints of “substandard medical care.”
At the rally, they chanted, “No excuses for human rights abuses!”
Troublingly, there are few details about the circumstances that preceded his death that both ICE and Meza Espinoza’s family and attorneys seem to agree on.
While in ICE custody at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, he experienced health complications, including gastrointestinal bleeding, the family’s lawyer, Manuel Portela, told the Daily News.
According to the account his lawyer gave to the Daily News, Meza Espinoza was taken to a nearby hospital on June 8 and died on June 10.
Here’s where things get complicated. There are a series of contradictory, opaque reports about Meza Espinoza’s death that ICE has yet to untangle. I have contacted ICE about each of them. I have also contacted Manuel Portela, the lawyer for Meza Espinoza’s family.
Among the contradictions:
- Meza Espinoza’s lawyer told The Record that when ICE went to Meza Espinoza’s workplace to detain him in March, they had with them a photo of a man who his lawyer said looked nothing like Meza Espinoza. Portela told the Daily News that the photo depicted “a tall, thin, darker skinned man,” but that Meza Espinoza was “of olive complexion, only 5-foot-4 in stature and of stockier build.” ICE has yet to comment on this claim.
- The Daily News also reported that the ICE agents told co-workers they were looking for “Rolando Meza with a 2005 order of deportation.” But, as the paper noted, Meza Espinosa said he had “temporary protective status” since 2005, which had shielded him from deportation. Meza Espinoza lost his temporary protective status after he was arrested for two DUIs in 2015, his lawyer told the Daily News. ICE has yet to comment on this claim.
- Even the circumstances of how Meza Espinoza’s death was reported are unclear. The Record reported that Meza Espinoza’s family wasn’t notified about his death until they called to check in on June 12, two days after ICE said he had already died. In a different account given to the Hudson County View, it was Portela looking for an update on his legal battle, and not his family, who discovered Meza Espinoza had died two days after his reported death.
- The agency did apparently send a letter to Portela on June 14 about the death of a man with a different name—Carlos Mejia-Bonilla—who died on the same day and under similar circumstances, the lawyer told the Daily News. Portela said that Carlos Mejia-Bonilla was the name on the ID Meza Espinoza used to enter the U.S. As a result, ICE documents that name Mejia-Bonilla likely refer to Meza Espinoza.
ICE announced the death of Mejia-Bonilla, who was from El Salvador, from “internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock” in a press release earlier this month. According to the press release, it was the 10th time a person died in ICE custody during this fiscal year.
I will update this post if I hear back from ICE or Meza Espinoza’s representatives about any of these issues.