32 Deaths at CCA-operated Immigration Detention Facilities Include at Least 7 Suicides
by Alex Friedmann
On June 17, 2015, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, requesting an investigation into recent deaths at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. The facility, which houses detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is operated by Corrections Corporation of America – the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.
One of the deaths, that of José de Jesús Deniz-Sahagún, 31, a Mexican national, was ruled a suicide by the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office. Deniz-Sahagún died on May 20, 2015 due to asphyxiation; a sock was found lodged in his throat. The day before his death he was reportedly examined by mental health staff at the CCA facility for “delusional thoughts and behaviors,” according to the autopsy report.
“Eloy Detention Center is in the business of detaining people for profit, but that does not exempt them from upholding the law,” Rep. Grijalva said in a statement. “Where transgressions occur, accountability must follow.”
Approximately 200 detainees at the Eloy facility staged a hunger strike over the weekend of June 13-14, 2015. According to Puente Movement, an immigrant advocacy organization, the detainees sat down in the recreation yard and issued a series of demands that included an independent investigation into the recent deaths at the facility; access to legal resources and court hearings; adequate medical and mental health care, among other improved conditions; and an end to criminalization, detention and deportation of people accused of violating immigration laws.
Additionally, they called for an end to the exploitation of their labor, as they are paid $1.00 per day for work they perform at the detention facility.
“What kind of hypocrisy is this where the United States is picking up people for working without documents, but it’s perfectly legal to work for a private corporation for $1.00 a day?” said Francisca Porcha, Puente Movement’s director of organizing.
While ICE officials acknowledged the protest they denied there was a hunger strike.
Based on data collected by Prison Legal News, over the 11-year period from 2004 to June 2015 there have been 32 deaths reported at CCA-operated immigration detention facilities nationwide. Fourteen of those deaths occurred at Eloy, while seven were at the company’s Houston Processing Center. The San Diego Correctional Facility reported five deaths, and two occurred at both CCA’s Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. One death each was reported at the Laredo Processing Center in Texas and the North Georgia Detention Center.
Most of the detainee deaths were related to medical issues but at least seven were found to be suicides – or over 20% of the deaths at CCA-operated immigration detention facilities. They included the hanging deaths of Jorge Garcia-Mejia (aka Garcia-Maldanado) and Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales at the Eloy Detention Center, both in 2013. [See: PLN, Aug. 2013, p.46].
“Suicides are a red flag,” Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said at the time. “They usually signify a much larger problem. Sometimes it’s because of ineffective mental health treatment, but often times it’s caused by poor staffing issues.”
Previously, CCA’s Eloy facility was fined multiple times for staff vacancies.
Sources: Tucson Sentinel, Tucson Weekly, www.kpho.com
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