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Man dies by apparent suicide in ICE family detention center

UPDATED: Thu., March 19, 2020

In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 photo, Yarelis Gutierrez Barrios holds up a cell phone photo at her home in Tampa, Fla., of herself with her partner Roylan Hernandez Diaz, a Cuban asylum seeker who hanged himself in a Louisiana prison. An Associated Press investigation into Hernandez’s death last October found neglect and apparent violations of government policies by jailers under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Chris O'Meara / AP)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 photo, Yarelis Gutierrez Barrios holds up a cell phone photo at her home in Tampa, Fla., of herself with her partner Roylan Hernandez Diaz, a Cuban asylum seeker who hanged himself in a Louisiana prison. An Associated Press investigation into Hernandez’s death last October found neglect and apparent violations of government policies by jailers under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Chris O'Meara / AP)
Associated Press

HOUSTON – A 27-year-old Honduran man died by apparent suicide at one of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s family detention centers, authorities said Thursday.

ICE said the man was pronounced dead at about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday after being found unresponsive at the Karnes County Residential Center in South Texas, which detains about 700 parents and children. ICE did not identify the man.

The legal group RAICES says it was representing the man and called his death “devastating.”

The death was the ninth to occur in ICE custody since the start of the governmental fiscal year in October, exceeding the eight deaths that occurred in the prior year.

Advocates have called on ICE to reduce its detainee population and its operations to arrest migrants in the U.S. without authorization amid the coronavirus outbreak, which could pose a special risk to people jailed in close quarters.

ICE said Wednesday that it would scale back enforcement to detain “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”

“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,” Lucia Allain, a spokeswoman for RAICES, said in a statement. “A dirty and cramped detention center in the face of a pandemic is unsafe and inhumane.”

In sworn legal declarations the group released Tuesday, two migrants reported getting sick from the drinking water they are provided at Karnes, which had 680 people in detention last week. Another migrant said detainees are denied access to hand sanitizer. They are instead told to use body wash in the showers to clean their hands at all times.

ICE said in a statement that the facility has hand soap dispensers that are checked twice daily and detained migrants are “encouraged“ to report any shortages. The agency also said it provides free water, milk, and juice.

Already, illnesses spread quickly in Karnes and other detention centers, said Andrea Meza, director of family detention services for RAICES.

“When you’re there, all the kids are coughing,” she said. “Everybody has a runny nose and a sore throat and diarrhea.”

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