From [HERE] ISAÍ ROMERO HAD no idea how to break the news to his parents that their son — his brother — had died. The elderly couple, nearly 2,000 miles away in Puebla, Mexico, had been anxiously waiting for their 40-year-old son, Efraín Romero de la Rosa, to be deported back home. Efraín himself was also looking forward to it.
“His big hope was that — going to Mexico,” Isaí Romero, who lives in North Carolina, told The Intercept by phone. The deportation would be a relief compared to the limbo of immigration detention, where Efraín had landed after being placed in immigration removal proceedings by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But Efraín never made it out of the ICE facility.
“When they gave me the news, all of a sudden, the entire world collapsed,” Isaí Romero said. “I spent the entire day crying. I didn’t know how to tell my parents what had happened. I waited for my mom to eat — to be calm, you know?”
Efraín Romero’s suicide came at the end of 21 days in solitary confinement, according to investigators.
Romero had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to documents from the Virginia Department of Corrections. His death parallels a case from May 2017, when 27-year-old Jean Jimenez-Joseph, another Stewart detainee with a mental health diagnosis, killed himself at the facility after 19 days in solitary confinement. The United Nations has previously said that such confinements could constitute torture and ICE itself has issued strict directives about isolating detainees, including specifically on segregating people with mental health conditions for extended periods.
For lawyers, advocates, and the families of the dead, the suicides at Stewart represent a pattern of mistreatment at the hands of ICE, leading to widespread concerns about the safety of immigrant detainees, especially at privately run facilities like Stewart. Romero is the third death at the facility since May 2017 — a troubling indication of an overwhelmed mass immigration detention system that is ill-equipped to deal with delicate cases involving medical and mental health issues.
“We very much have a pattern here,” Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with Atlanta-based social justice group Project South, said. “I’m not sure what else it would take for the government to shut this place down. How can they defend what is happening at this facility?”
EFRAÍN ROMERO ENTERED ICE custody in March, after being arrested for larceny. He had been staying with his brother Isaí in North Carolina. Isaí Romero said he and his family are trying to stay positive, praying and anxiously awaiting details on what led to the suicide.
“He went to other [detention facilities] and he didn’t even scratch himself,” Isaí Romero said. “But he goes to this facility and he takes his own life. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe what happened there.”
The Stewart Detention Facility is managed by the private detention corporation CoreCivic under a contract from ICE. The facility is located on the remote outskirts of Lumpkin, Georgia, making visits from family, advocates, and lawyers a challenge. It has fallen under continued scrutiny for its internal operations, by both advocacy organizations and the U.S. government itself.
“The conditions at Stewart are atrocious,” Shahshahani said. In May 2017, Project South released a report highlighting conditions at Stewart and detailing “serious concerns” with the facility’s housing, medical care, food, hygiene, and mental health care.
At the federal level, ICE sets Performance-Based National Detention Standards for all its facilities, regardless of whether they are run by a private corporation or the government. The purpose of the standards is to maintain a “safe and secure detention environment for staff and detainees.”
According to a December 2017 report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, Stewart violated some of the standards, including when it came to the use of “segregation” — also known as solitary confinement. According to the report, staff did not always tell detainees why they were being placed in solitary confinement. Sometimes, the report notes, detainees were placed in solitary “for violations of minor rules” without required written notification for reasons of lockdown. As The Intercept previously reported, detainees at Stewart have been punished with solitary confinement for refusing to perform voluntary labor.
In a statement to The Intercept, the Office of Inspector General said it estimates the work to address its report’s recommendations will be “complete by the end of 2018.”
That will be little consolation to Efraín Romero’s family. [MORE]