What We Know About the Asylum-Seeker Who Committed Suicide in ICE Custody

He was frustrated with the immigration process and put into solitary confinement.
October 17, 2019, 3:21pm
n this July 8, 2019, photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers transfer a man in handcuffs and ankle cuffs onto a van during an operation in Escondido, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)​

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A Cuban asylum-seeker decided to go on a hunger strike to protest abusive conditions of ICE custody, where he had spent nearly five months. But after guards put him in solitary confinement as punishment, the 43-year-old committed suicide.

Roylan Hernandez-Diaz was found unresponsive in his cell at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana, ICE confirmed Wednesday. The private detention facility, run by LaSalle Corrections, began housing immigrant detainees earlier this year. Hernandez-Diaz had grown increasingly frustrated with the difficulty of fighting his case from behind bars and the conditions in the facility, although it’s unclear what kind of abuse he was facing.

ICE didn’t provide many details on Hernandez’s death: The agency said he appeared to have died of “self-inflicted strangulation,” and his case is currently being investigated. But an internal detainee death notification obtained by BuzzFeed News gives some insight into his life in detention. He’s the second migrant to die in ICE custody since the beginning of October, and eight people died in ICE custody in all of last year.

Hernandez appeared to have been put in solitary confinement as punishment for the hunger strike, according to BuzzFeed. Officers at the facility told ICE that Hernandez had missed his “ninth consecutive meal and declared a hunger strike, citing his frustration with the immigration process” on Tuesday. He was found dead in his cell around 2 p.m. that day.

“He told me he was going to participate in a hunger strike because of the abuse he endured in detention,” Hernandez’s wife, Yarelis Gutierrez, told BuzzFeed News. “He never said he was going to hurt or kill himself. This is all news to me, and I don't believe it's true.”

Immigrant detainees at ICE facilities across the country have gone on hunger strikes to draw attention to the conditions in detention centers and to call for their release. Migrants who have gone on hunger strike in ICE detention say they’ve been harassed and punished for speaking out, often by being put in solitary confinement.

Hernandez unsuccessfully asked to be released from ICE custody, despite having passed his “credible fear” screening — an interview conducted by an asylum officer to help determine whether migrants really fear returning to their country — in June.

The Trump administration has made it harder for asylum-seekers to be released from ICE custody while their cases play out in court, a practice referred to as “catch and release.”

Hernandez’s wife said she last spoke to him after an immigration court hearing on Oct. 9, and he told her that the judge had asked him to find more evidence of the persecution he faced in Cuba — something he had trouble doing from a detention center in Louisiana.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information.

Cover image: In this July 8, 2019, photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers transfer a man in handcuffs and ankle cuffs onto a van during an operation in Escondido, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)