Macclenny, Florida — Detention Watch Network and Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees are demanding an immediate investigation into the deaths of Ben James Owen, a 39-year-old man from the United Kingdom, and a 63-year-old man from Cuba. Owen died on January 25 while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after being detained at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida. ICE is reporting his death as a suicide. Buzzfeed is reporting that the individual from Cuba passed away in ICE custody after being taken to a Florida hospital for cardiac arrest. ICE has yet to release the man’s name or information about where he was detained.
“The ongoing loss of life in immigration detention is not only heartbreaking, it’s deeply infuriating,” said Bud Conlin of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees. "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.”
Since 2003, 201 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.
The news of Owen’s tragic suicide comes months after the suicide of Roylan Hernández Diáz at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, Louisiana. Hernández Diáz was held in solitary confinement at the time, a practice internationally recognized as torture.
“Fostering hopelessness is an intentional tactic of an administration bent on terrorizing immigrant communities,” said Bárbara Suárez Galeano, Organizing Director at Detention Watch Network. "This is why thousands of people languish in detention centers everyday, it's why medical and mental health services are all but nonexistent and it's why the use of solitary confinement is rampant. This is a lethal combination and it’s costing people’s lives.
In Florida, ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants with no prior convictions have increased sevenfold under the Trump administration–the largest surge in the country. ICE has also been increasing their collaboration with local enforcement in the state, deputizing police officers to target, arrest, and detain immigrants–making the state among others in the South a testing ground for a lethal and massive detention system.
“Immigration detention is a death sentence,” said Suárez Galeano. “ICE must be held accountable. Two deaths over the course of three days underscores the pressing need to abolish the abusive detention system in its entirety.”
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.