HOUSTON (AP) — A Cuban man who legally sought asylum died by apparent suicide while being detained at an immigration jail in Louisiana, authorities said Wednesday.
Roylan Hernandez Diaz, 43, was found unresponsive Tuesday afternoon inside his cell at the Richwood Correctional Center, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said he had appeared to strangle himself.
Hernandez had been in ICE detention since May, when he applied for asylum at a border bridge in El Paso, Texas. According to the agency, Hernandez was deemed “inadmissible” by border agents and placed in detention.
ICE did not comment on allegations from a person whose brother is detained inside Richwood that Hernandez was in solitary confinement at the time of his death.
It also did not comment on reports from relatives and lawyers of detainees that asylum seekers from Cuba have refused meals in protest of their treatment and prolonged detention.
Located in Monroe, Louisiana, Richwood is one of eight jails in the state, most in the rural northern part, that have switched to detaining immigrants since last year. ICE has dramatically expanded migrant detention in the state , with about 8,000 people held in Louisiana out of about 51,000 nationally.
Many of those jailed in Louisiana are asylum seekers, including people who say they are fleeing political repression in Cuba and Venezuela.
Advocates and lawyers have alleged that ICE is unlawfully refusing to release many asylum seekers. A federal judge in September sided with lawyers for the Southern Poverty Law Center and ordered ICE to follow its guidelines on releasing migrants on parole.
Family members of migrants also say that ICE and the prison company operating many of the new facilities, LaSalle Corrections, punish detainees accused of breaking rules with solitary confinement in a cell known by Spanish speakers as a “pozo,” a well or a hole. LaSalle operates Richwood, which has a capacity of 1,129 people.
According to Alejandra Castellano, the sister of another person detained at Richwood, Hernandez had been placed in the “pozo” at the time of his death.
Castellano said Hernandez had attempted to enter the U.S. with his wife, who was detained separately for several months until being released in recent weeks.
Cuban migrants have become increasingly frustrated in recently as Cuba has begun to accept more deported asylum seekers.
On Friday, about 15 detained Cuban men protested inside an ICE facility in Otero, New Mexico, by refusing to leave a recreation yard for about three hours, according to immigration advocates and two detainees who communicated from inside the facility.
Nathalia Dickson, a lawyer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said her clients at Richwood and other immigration jails have complained that they aren’t receiving proper food or medical attention. The slow pace at which ICE releases migrants has caused “a system that’s swollen with so many people and wheels that don’t spin,” she said.
“We shouldn’t be treating people this way,” Dickson said. “These are families. These are people who really need help.”
Hernandez is the second person to die in ICE custody during the current government fiscal year, which began this month. Eight people died in the last fiscal year ending in September.
ICE primarily detains adults while a separate agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, holds children.
Associated Press reporter Cedar Attanasio in El Paso, Texas, contributed to this report.