Father takes his own life in ICE family detention centre

Andrew Naughtie
AP

A 27-year-old Honduran father has taken his own life while being held in a family detention centre by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Texas.

According to RAICES, a Texas nonprofit organisation providing legal services to immigrants, the man had been fighting for his family’s freedom from custody. He had been detained at the Karnes detention centre, which has been through a series of chaotic changes since the Trump administration ramped up its programme of family detentions.

The man had reportedly failed an initial asylum screening and then lost an appeal. In a Twitter thread announcing his death, RAICES says that some 700 people are currently detained at the centre, all of them facing serious mental and physical health risks – not least the advancing coronavirus epidemic.

“The mental health impact on people who are imprisoned for the crime of seeking a safe haven is overwhelming. The added stress of the coronavirus potentially getting inside the center is deadly.

“We anticipate that this won’t be the last death at Karnes unless ICE immediately releases all those detained at this detention center and in custody around the country. A dirty and cramped detention center in the face of a pandemic is unsafe and inhumane.”

At around the same time the man’s death announced, several thousand doctors signed an open letter calling on ICE to release all immigrants from custody before the coronavirus outbreak reaches detention facilities, where overcrowding could allow the virus to spread rampantly throughout the population.

The immigration courts system is also overwhelmed, now facing a backlog of one million cases that await processing. The system’s inability to cope with legal proceedings against people who’ve fallen foul of the Trump administration’s rules is slowing the process of clearing people to leave detention, a major factor in the serious overcrowding that poses such a threat.

Concluding its thread announcing the man’s death, RAICES sounded a call for help bringing the programme of mass immigrant detentions to an end.

“PLEASE JOIN US IN DEMANDING ICE RELEASES ALL IMMIGRANTS FROM DETENTION CENTERS IMMEDIATELY.

“Call your elected Rep, tweet at them.

“We understand everyone is under pressure right now but we must protect the most vulnerable amongst us before it’s too late.”