Family members and advocates demand answers from ICE on the death of father in their custody

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, March 9, 2023

San Diego, California —The Free Them All San Diego Coalition, the Mami Chelo Foundation, and Detention Watch Network are demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immediately investigate and release findings related to the death of Cristian Dumitrascu, a 50-year-old man from Romania. Mr. Dumitrascu died on March 5 while detained at the San Diego ICE Otay Mesa Detention Center. Immigrant justice advocates are demanding the facility shut down and that ICE release everyone detained in the wake of this tragedy.

“I can’t express in words the pain that we are in right now. It's a tough situation for us to comprehend. We can’t find answers as to why they didn't want to give my father medical attention,” said Serano, Cristian’s son. “We hope that in the future, no other family will need to go through something like this. No one deserves to be treated like this. Now we are going to mourn the loss of our family head, my father. He was a great man, an amazing father, and a good friend. He is going to be missed. Now, us, his family, hope we will bring him home soon to see him one last time.”

ICE’s press release in response to Dumitrascu’s death offers little details about what happened in the moments leading up to this tragedy. Border patrol (CBP) arrested Mr. Dumitrascu on February 22 and transferred him to ICE on March 1. Five days later, on March 6, ICE announced his death. The 12 days that Mr. Dumitrascu spent in federal immigration custody is yet another tragic example of how CBP and ICE operate in secrecy with a complete lack of transparency and care.

"I was unjustly incarcerated by ICE for over 13 months even though I had a green card application pending. From personal experience, I can say that extreme medical negligence, despite people begging for care, was normal practice in ICE detention. I am alive today by the grace of God because I was also denied medical attention, ” said Yanet Candelario, President and founder of The Mami Chelo Foundation working with Mr. Dumitrascu’s family to send his body back to Romania. “At every step, ICE has made it difficult to provide Cristian’s family with clear answers about what happened to him. Cristian’s death should be enough to immediately close down Otay Mesa Detention Center and other detention facilities.” 

Local advocates in San Diego issued the following statements:

“The history of neglect, abuse and disregard for human life is well documented at Otay Mesa Detention Facility, a for-profit institution. This death once again reflects a systemic problem with holding people in immigration proceedings,” said Benjamin Prado, Program Coordinator of the US-Mexico Border Program of the AFSC. “This death continues to illustrate the need to free all persons so they can effectively defend their immigration case with the support of their family and community. Short of this action, it is a matter of time till we can expect more unnecessary loss of life.”

“Time and time again, these centers have been found to medically neglect and outright harm the people in their care. There is no responsible oversight, and this is by design,” said Ruth from the Free Them All San Diego coalition. “These xenophobic institutions like ICE, along with private contractors like GEO and Corecivic, generate large amounts of wealth off the suffering of immigrants seeking a better life. We have been calling for the Shutdown of the Otay Mesa Detention Center for years. We demand ICE and CoreCivic release people to their families and communities.”

Since President Biden took office, at least nine people have died in ICE custody. Since 2003, when ICE became a federal agency, that number is over 200. 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 negligent medical care by ICE is systemic and persistent.

“Any length of time in immigration detention is unacceptable, inflicts unnecessary trauma, and in the most heartbreaking cases, is deadly,” said Marcela Hernandez, Organizing Director at Detention Watch Network. “People are losing their lives to a detention system that does not need to exist. We demand that the Biden Administration close the Otay Mesa Detention Center and all other immigration detention facilities, cut funding from ICE & CBP in his upcoming budget proposal, and release all people from detention immediately.”


The Mami Chelo Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps immigrants facing detention and deportation through legal support, financial assistance and advocacy. We believe that the freedom to escape conflict and persecution or to seek a better quality of life is a human right that should be preserved, and that discrimination and abuse based on any immigration status are violations of such rights.

Free Them All San Diego is a coalition of organizations and activists based in the San Diego-Tijuana region who are committed to affirming migration as a human right. 

Detention Resistance works to end the inhumane detention and human rights abuses at Otay Mesa Detention Center.

AFSC San Diego- US-Mexico Border Program is a Human Rights office that promotes and defends the rights of migrant workers and their families.

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 on Twitter @DetentionWatch.