Two illegal immigrants died in Homeland Security custody over the weekend, and authorities say both cases were likely suicides, drawing attention to yet another trouble spot in the immigration debate.
One Mexican man died at the border on Saturday, a day after he was nabbed by officers at a border crossing while attempting to falsely claim he was a U.S. citizen. He was being held in a Customs and Border Protection facility for decisions on deportation and possible criminal charges stemming from his lying.
“According to initial reports, the cause of death is suspected to be the result of suicide,” CBP said Sunday.
A Nigerian man being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Worcester County Detention Center in Snow Hill, Maryland, was found dead in his cell Saturday morning. ICE said Monday that he appeared to have died of “self-inflicted strangulation.”
Hours after the revelations, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced Monday a new round investigations into conditions in Department of Homeland Security facilities.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat and committee chairwoman, cited what she called “a troubling pattern of abuse and poor treatment of immigrants in the department’s detention centers.”
She said a focus will be the death of a 16-year-old migrant being held by the Border Patrol who died in May from the flu. He was kept in a cell without medical treatment despite showing signs of illness, the committee said.
In the new ICE case in Maryland, Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi, 56, had come to the U.S. on a legal temporary visa but was arrested in June and charged with child abuse and sexual abuse of a minor.
ICE said he broke the terms of his visa and was deportable, and it issued a detainer notifying local authorities they wanted him. ICE took custody of him on Friday, after he was in court on his charges.
On Saturday morning, he was dead in his cell.
“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,” the agency said in a statement.
“Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population,” the agency said.
While ICE named the Nigerian man who died, CBP did not name the Mexican migrant and released only scant details of his death.
Both CBP, which handles border matters, and ICE, which polices immigration in the interior and handles deportations, have faced issues in recent years with those in custody dying.
For CBP, it usually is a matter of medical distress. A number of migrants nabbed during last year’s border surge came to the U.S. with serious medical conditions and died soon after being encountered, officials say. Reports on those deaths are still in the works.
ICE, meanwhile, has been criticized for the detention facilities it uses. Most of them are contracted with state and local prisons or jails, or with privately run facilities.
In reports in 2018 and again last summer, the Homeland Security inspector general reported that bed sheets looped into nooses were found during a surprise inspection at an ICE facility in Adelanto, California.
Officials at that privately run facility said the nooses were in some cases tools of suicide, but they were also sometimes just convenient ways to tie the sheets to keep the sheets out of the way when they weren’t being used as clotheslines or privacy screens.
That audit said the nooses violated ICE’s safety standards, but said the agency didn’t seem to take the “recurring problem” seriously. The inspector general said a 32-year-old detainee at that Adelanto facility hanged himself with bedsheets in March 2017, and in the months afterward investigators found reports of at least three other attempted hangings.
One detainee told the investigators: “I’ve seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them ‘suicide failures’ once they are back from medical.”
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