Immigrant Detainee Facing Possible Deportation Dies in ICE Custody at Georgia Detention Center

Federal authorities are investigating after an immigrant who was facing possible deportation apparently committed suicide in his cell at a Georgia detention center.

Foreign nationals were arrested during the week of February 6, 2017, during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Credit: Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Jean Jimenez-Joseph, 27, was pronounced dead at a hospital early Monday, shortly after staff at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, found him in his cell with a sheet around his neck, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Tuesday. The preliminary cause of death was self-inflicted strangulation, according to the agency.

He’d been in solitary confinement at the detention center for more than two weeks, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is also investigating.

Jimenez was unresponsive when facility staff and medical personnel found him around 12:45 a.m. Monday, ICE said, and their efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Jimenez, a Panamanian national, was in immigration removal proceedings. He is the seventh person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began in October.

ICE said senior leadership of the agency would investigate Jimenez’s death.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” immigration authorities said in their statement announcing Jimenez’s death. “Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the rate of the U.S. detained population as a whole.”

Jimenez had been in ICE custody since March. The agency said it issued a detainer for him after he was convicted of motor vehicle larceny in Wake County, North Carolina, in January.

Held in isolation

Officials at the detention center placed Jimenez in isolation on April 27 after he jumped over a rail from the second floor to the first floor of the facility, according to Danny Jackson, special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The local sheriff asked the state agency to investigate, Jackson said. Investigators do not suspect foul play, he said.

Word of Jimenez’s death sparked swift criticism from immigrant rights activists, who have long decried conditions at the detention center.

On Twitter, Project South Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani called Jimenez’s death a “horrific tragedy that could have been prevented.”

Shahshahani, whose organization recently released a report criticizing medical and mental-health care at the detention center, said the time Jimenez reportedly spent in solitary confinement is particularly concerning.

“If the government were abiding by international human rights standards, he would not have been subjected to solitary for such a long period of time and would not have suffered the harmful emotional impact that he inevitably suffered in solitary,” Shahshahani said in an email.

She slammed ICE for mentioning Jimenez’s criminal conviction in its press release.

“This fits the pattern of the unfortunate reactions we have got from the government before: dismissiveness and a demonstrated lack of concern for the health of and well being of the detained immigrant population,” she said.

ICE: Deaths ‘exceptionally rare’ at detention centers

Jimenez’s death was the first at the Stewart Detention Center in more than eight years, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said.

“While the situation yesterday is unfortunate and will be subject to a full investigation, statistically, deaths in ICE detention are exceptionally rare,” Cox said.

Asked about Project South’s recent report criticizing conditions at the facility, Cox said the detention center is subject to regular inspection and repeatedly has been found to operate in compliance with the agency’s detention standards.

“ICE provides several levels of oversight in order to ensure that detainees in ICE custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement,” he said.

The 1,752-bed Stewart Detention Center is owned and run by private prison company CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.

A spokesman for the company referred questions about the case to ICE.

“We are cooperating fully with our government partner as ICE conducts its investigation,” CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said in an email.