The death toll in ICE custody rises to 194, groups demand an immediate investigation

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Project South, Georgia Detention Watch and Detention Watch Network are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings related to the death of Pedro Arriago-Santoya

Lumpkin, Georgia —Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, and Detention Watch Network are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings related to the death of Pedro Arriago-Santoya. Arriago-Santoya, 44, died on July 24 while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after being detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.

“We call for an immediate investigation into the medical care that Pedro received,” said Kevin Caron, member of Georgia Detention Watch. "Stewart, like many prisons and detention facilities throughout the US, has a long history of medical neglect. Systematic abuse of power and lack of care are responsible for the legacy of death in ICE custody and throughout the US carceral system. We must take responsibility for ending all state violence by abolishing ICE and abolishing mass incarceration.”

Arriago-Santoya reportedly suffered abdominal pain four days prior to his passing. According to Piedmont Midtown Medical Center in Columbus, the preliminary cause of death was cardio-pulmonary arrest. He is the seventh person to die in ICE custody in Fiscal Year 2019. In recent years, groups, including 70 Georgia and national organizations, have repeatedly called for investigations into the Stewart Detention Center, following multiple deaths, including two suicides.

"We have been raising the alarm about the horrific conditions at the Stewart Detention Center for many years. Our calls for accountability and redress have fallen on deaf ears,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director at Project South. “How many more immigrants should perish at this awful place rife with human rights abuses before it's shut down?"

Since 2003, 194 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.

“ICE completely disregards the well-being and dignity of people in their custody,” said Liz Castillo, Organizer at Detention Watch Network. “Immigration detention is not the answer: not for immigrants, not for people seeking asylum, not or for anyone. The death toll amassed by ICE exposes ICE as the dehumanizing and criminalizing agency that it is. Detention centers need to close and ICE must be defunded.”


Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) is a coalition of organizations and individuals that advocates alongside immigrants to end the inhumane and unjust detention and law enforcement policies and practices directed against immigrant communities in our state.

Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice.

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.