Another death in ICE Custody after ICE grabs $271 million from FEMA and other DHS agencies 

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, September 13, 2019
Detention Watch Network, Organized Communities Against Deportations, and the National Immigrant Justice Center are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings related to the death of Roberto Rodriguez Espinoza in Illinois

Woodstock, Illinois — Detention Watch Network, Organized Communities Against Deportations, and the National Immigrant Justice Center are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings related to the death of Roberto Rodriguez Espinoza, a 37-year-old man from Mexico. The man died on September 10 while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after being detained at the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility in Woodstock, Illinois. This is the eighth death to occur in ICE detention in Fiscal Year 2019.

“Roberto’s death is the eighth in ICE custody we have mourned this year. As Chicagoans, and as lawyers who have provided services for immigrants at McHenry County Jail for many years, his death hits especially close to home. It is alarming that someone died less than a week after ICE took him from our city,” said National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “The Trump administration has gone to extreme lengths to incarcerate as many immigrants as it can, with dire consequences. The National Immigrant Justice Center calls on Congress to hold ICE accountable for publicly releasing its investigation of Roberto’s death, and to stop funding the DHS agencies that continue to put our community members’ lives at risk.”

ICE’s attempt to dehumanize and criminalize Mr. Rodriguez Espinoza, even in death, highlights the importance of dismantling this abusive agency. “Here in Chicago, we have been working tirelessly to expose the corruption and abuses endemic to policing tools such as the Chicago gang database. ICE’s willingness to label Roberto Rodriguez as a gang member without once addressing the very questionable and alarming factors surrounding his death only serve as another example of why ICE cannot be reformed, it must be abolished,” said Reyna Wences campaign organizer for Organized Communities Against Deportations.

Since 2003, 195 people have died in ICE immigrant detention. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention, Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention and Systemic Indifference: Dangerous and Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, have found that inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths. 

People across the country in detention continually face the well-documented and rampant lack of medical care in ICE custody including, Yoel Alonso Leal. Leal has lung tumors that ICE has refused to treat or biopsy since they were discovered in May. Today, Leal, who was seeking asylum, was deported to Cuba despite independent medical opinions that feared Leal could die in flight and the massive outcry from the New Orleans community to keep him in the United States and get him the medical care he desperately needed.  

“ICE completely disregards the well-being and dignity of people in their custody,” said Bárbara Suárez Galeano, Organizing Director at Detention Watch Network. “Immigration detention is fatal — funding must be cut to the deadly agency as a step towards abolishing the system in its entirety.”

This month marks the end of the third fiscal year of the Trump administration that has continually expanded its attacks on the immigrant community. ICE alone has seen its budget skyrocket from $6.2 billion in 2016 to $8.1 billion in 2019. Just last month, ICE transferred $271 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard, and other accounts in order to further expand the deadly immigration detention system and fund the Trump administration’s harmful Remain in Mexico program.

“ICE’s budget continues to grow and yet, people are still dying,” added Suárez Galeano. “That should tell you that the problem isn’t the need for better conditions, the problem is the agency itself and the detention system it operates. Immigration detention was designed to target and criminalize Black and brown people while creating exorbitant profits — immigrant cages are not the answer.”


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.