The guards said he was always “clowning around,” so they locked him up alone to keep him out of trouble for 20 days. But when they discovered him on day 19, he was drugged and hanging by a “makeshift noose” from a shower head. The death last May of 27-year-old JeanCarlo Jimenez-Joseph, who was taken into federal custody in Georgia while suffering schizophrenia, followed a series of missteps that were wholly avoidable, according to advocates.
A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) traces over the past several years a devastating trail of epitaphs dotting the vast system of immigrant detention—a burgeoning network of facilities ranging from federal prisons to private commercial detention centers to tent cities in the desert. The official records generally list nondescript reasons for death, such as “cardiac arrest.” But ICE’s opaque bureaucracy masks a metastasizing crisis: Researchers note the growing frequency and patterns of neglect displayed in many of the death cases as warning signs that went ignored. (In fact, just days after Jimenez-Joseph’s suicide, a middle-aged Indian detainee in Georgia, Atulkumar Babubhai Patel, died after being hospitalized. He had previously been diagnosed at the detention center with diabetes and high blood pressure.)
In fiscal year 2017, according to federal statistics, 12 detainees died on Homeland Security’s watch, a record number since 2009 and double the death rate of four years ago.
Now advocates fear that Trump is turning the country’s immigrant-detention system into a new kind of death row along the border.
As the Trump administration dramatically expands the deportation regime, the government insists that mass detention of people who have committed no “crime” other than border crossing is necessary for maintaining law and order (although there is actually no federal code that mandates mass detention), or that it must “teach migrants a lesson” (though there is scant evidence that refugees have been deterred from fleeing for their lives).
With about 2,300 children separated over the past few weeks in recent weeks and warehoused in tent cities and retail buildings, mental health experts have warned of profound damage caused by the toxic stress of protracted separation, including deep anxiety, depression, and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. Similar traumas could afflict thousands of other youth who were taken into custody after arriving at the border as unaccompanied minors, having already been estranged from their families.