A detainee of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent nearly 21 days in solitary confinement, took his own life, an Intercept report revealed.
Efrain Romero, 40, originally from Mexico, was the eighth detainee to die in ICE custody this year. At the start of the year, another death was reported at the same detention center, Stewart Detention Facility, that raised questions about poor medical conditions the detainees are subjected to at the facility.
The facility located at the outskirts of Lumpkin, Georgia, is managed by the private detention corporation CoreCivic, which has a contract with ICE. The center's visitation policy from family, advocates, and lawyers is strict and the center itself continues to be scrutinized for its internal operations, both by advocacy organizations and the U.S. government.
“His big hope was that — going to Mexico,” Isai Romero, Efrain's relative who lives in North Carolina, told The Intercept, adding that deportation would be a relief compared to the limbo of immigration detention. But he never made it out of the ICE facility.
"When they gave me the news, all of a sudden, the entire world collapsed," Isai 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?"
"We very much have a pattern here," Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with Atlanta-based social justice group Project South, said, according to the Intercept. "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?"
A December 2017 report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, also stated that Stewart violated some of the standards, including when it came to the use of "segregation" — another term for solitary confinement.
According to the Intercept, in May 2017, prior to Romero's stay in North Carolina, where he was arrested and turned over to ICE, he was based in Virginia, where he received his mental health diagnosis and received treatment run by the Virginia Department of Corrections.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and was prescribed five different medications and Vitamin D as treatment by the Department of Corrections in June 2017.
ICE didn't respond to any questions regarding Romero’s mental health, including whether the agency received his mental health diagnosis from the Virginia Department of Corrections but it did state that all detainees receive a comprehensive physical exam within 14 days of arrival at a facility to identify medical, mental health, and even dental conditions which require treatment.
"ICE is firmly committed to the health and safety of all individuals in custody including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care,” a statement sent to The Intercept noted. "All ICE detainees, regardless of location, can expect timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests, and timely medical care appropriate to the anticipated length of detention."