The first death in ICE custody for Fiscal Year 2020 occurs in California as the state awaits passage of legislation to ban private detention

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, October 2, 2019

San Diego, CA — Detention Watch Network and Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice are demanding an immediate investigation and public release of the findings related to the death of 37-year-old man from Cameroon in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Buzzfeed reported the man died after being detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center (Otay) in San Diego. 

“The ongoing loss of life in immigration detention is not only heartbreaking, it’s infuriating,” said Lizbeth Abeln, Immigrant Detention Coordinator with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “There is a bill sitting on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk right now waiting to be signed that would ban private detention, like Otay, from the state. People in detention cannot afford to be behind bars a second longer, Newsom needs to sign now.” 

The bill, AB32, would ban the use of private prisons in California starting in the New Year with a complete phase out of their use by 2028. Over 70 percent of ICE’s immigration detention system is operated by private prison companies, most notoriously, CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The Geo Group Inc (GEO). 

“Private prison companies have well-documented track records of abuse, neglect and death within their facilities all while lining the pockets of their shareholders,” added Ablen. “Perverse financial incentives are the bedrock of the immigration detention system that continually drive the expansion of facilities and lead to more human suffering.”

Since 2003, 196 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 and that ICE lacks urgency and transparency when reporting deaths in its custody.

SB 622, another bill on Newsom’s desk, would address ICE’s culture of secrecy by requiring an immediate investigation and public report of deaths in detention for the state of California. 

This death of an immigrant from Cameroon comes less than a month after the death of another 37-year-old man, Roberto Rodriguez Espinoza, who died in ICE custody, and follows the Continuing Resolution just passed by Congress. 

“Notably absent from the Continuing Resolution, is a prohibition on budget advances known as exception apportionments. Last year, ICE used an exception apportionment during a series of continuing resolutions to expand detention by nearly 8,000 people per day. We expect ICE to employ this budget tactic in the following months as the agency will stop at nothing to cage immigrants across the country with deadly consequences,” said Bárbara Suárez Galeano, Organizing Director at Detention Watch Network. “ICE’s budget continues to grow and yet, people are still dying. 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.”