Washington, DC – Last week, Frankline Okpu, 37, died on December 6 and Carlos Juan Francisco, 42, died on December 4, both in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The tragic passing of Okpu and Francisco marks 14 reported deaths in ICE custody under the Biden administration.
Okpu was detained at the Moshannon Valley Detention Center in Pennsylvania, a former Bureau of Prisons (BOP) jail that was converted to an ICE detention center in 2021 despite widespread criticism demanding to close the facility permanently. Moshannon is currently the largest detention facility on the East Coast.
Francisco was detained at the Krome Detention Center in Florida. Krome, like Moshannon, has a long record of abuse, which only increased after the facility was privatized in 2008. In 2021, nine Black immigrants in federal custody filed a civil rights complaint with the Biden administration, speaking out against a disturbing pattern of anti-Black racism and abuse at Krome. Advocates with The UndocuBlack Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and Freedom for Immigrants submitted the complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL).
Since 2003, at least 232 people have died in immigrant detention. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention, Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention, Systemic Indifference: Dangerous and Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, and Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention have found that inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths.
National and local immigrant justice organizations offered the following comments:
Karim Golding, Spokesperson for Frankline Okpu’s family, Directly Impacted Advocate, said:
“After suffering torture in Cameroon, facing systemic injustice, and enduring nearly seven months in the dehumanizing Moshannon detention center, Frankline achieved victory in immigration court on October 12, 2023—the day his son turned four. This significant moment is etched in my memory, marked by a call from his wife expressing gratitude through tears of joy and relief, anticipating her husband's return to their family. However, just two months later, another call brought a stark contrast. His wife, now in tears of shock and grief, pleaded with me to refute the callous report of Frankline's death by ICE. As the Okpu family grapples with the incomprehensible and unjust loss of Frankline's life, they passionately demand immediate justice for all individuals akin to "Frankline Okpu" held in detention. During our collaboration on his case, Frankline confided that winning his case would likely lead to his continued detention by ICE for 90 to 120 days as they sought another country for deportation. While the circumstances surrounding Frankline's death remain unknown, I must be cautious in disclosing details. However, it is crucial to note that his detention went beyond punitive measures, and ICE's press release omitted a critical fact—Frankline had been granted relief from deportation under the Conventions Against Torture. What we do know is that Frankline passed away in solitary confinement. The pressing question now echoes: Why? Why did Frankline meet such a fate? The family seeks answers and accountability, questioning the circumstances that led to the tragic demise of a man who had fought for his right to remain with his loved ones. JUSTICE FOR OKPU!”
Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director of Detention Watch Network, said:
“In no uncertain terms, ICE has proven repeatedly that it is not capable of caring for people in its custody. We are deeply saddened by this loss of life and enraged by the Biden administration’s decision to increase the number of people behind bars. Shockingly, there are over 36,700 people currently locked up in immigration detention, more than double than when he first took office. People’s lives are in jeopardy in immigration detention, full-stop. The detention system as a whole is rife with systemic abuse and completely arbitrary. The tragic deaths of Francisco and Okpu further underscore the urgent need to defund ICE, shut down detention centers, and release people now.”
Andrea Jacoski, Director of the Detention Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice, said:
“We are heartbroken by the news that more lives have been lost in ICE custody. We strive to provide free legal services to detained immigrants who otherwise cannot access counsel. Through our work, we empower and advocate for immigrants like Carlos Juan Francisco and Frankline Okpu. We share in their struggle for justice and honor their lives. Although we were never connected to Carlos Juan Francisco, as an organization working with individuals detained in South Florida—including at Krome—Carlos Juan could have been one of our clients, one of our neighbors, and one of our friends had his life not been cut short by the inhumane and arbitrary immigration detention system. We are troubled by the secrecy around his passing, and we urge the Administration to review the circumstances surrounding his passing and the contract between ICE and the Larkin Hospital System. No person should be separated from their family or depart this world in such a violent way. May Carlos Juan and Frankline’s spirits and souls rest in power. We send our deepest condolences to their loved ones.”
Silvana Caldera, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida, said:
"We are devasted to hear about this recent loss of life in ICE facilities. It is heartbreaking that we continue to lose lives to an immigration detention system that is entirely unnecessary and continues to separate families and harm people. ICE and those it contracts with have proven over and over again that they are incapable of caring for human beings. Instead of detaining individuals, we should allow them to safely proceed with their cases in their communities. The current detention system is riddled with abuse and human rights violations, propped up at the taxpayers' expense, and we must keep ICE accountable for their pervasive neglect and harm. We must hold officials accountable.”
Sharon Njie, Cameroonian Asylee; Refugee Congress Delegate for Louisiana; Strategic Partnership Director for the Louisiana Organization of Refugees and Immigrants; and Member of the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition, said:
“We are deeply saddened by the news of yet another Cameroonian individual losing their life in an ICE detention facility while seeking safety and protection from war crimes and torture. This tragic event is contrary to the principles our nation upholds. It is imperative to recognize that migrants' lives matter, including those of Black refugees and asylum seekers. The late Frankline Okpu was a devoted Black father and husband who was tragically separated from his loved ones. It is with grave concern that we hold both ICE and GEO Group accountable for this loss of life. We implore for justice to be served for the affected families and urge for the prompt release of immigrants to their respective communities. Furthermore, we strongly advocate for the permanent closure of these detention centers that operate for profit.”
Louisiana Organization of Refugees and Immigrants (LORI) is a Black-led non-profit organization that promotes the socio-economic well-being of all Refugees and Immigrants living in Louisiana, the United States, and the world at large. LORI is a proud member of the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition, which seeks to end the deadly and violent system of immigrant detention across the Southeast United States.
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States.
Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) is an award-winning non-profit law firm that fights for justice for immigrants through a combination of direct representation, impact litigation, advocacy and outreach.
Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition (SDND) is a group of immigrants, children of immigrants, advocates, organizers, legal workers, justice seekers and community members who share resources, organize and take action together to end the caging and surveilling of people in the southeastern region of the U.S.