Cuban Asylum Seeker Dies in Apparent Suicide In Prison, is Second Person to Die in ICE Custody This Month

A Cuban asylum seeker who had reportedly expressed growing frustration over his slow-moving immigration case has died of an apparent suicide at a Louisiana prison, marking the second death of a person in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's custody in the first month of fiscal year 2019.

On Wednesday, ICE confirmed that Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, who was 43, had been pronounced dead on Tuesday after staff at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana found him unresponsive in his cell.

While ICE said the incident was still under investigation, the agency also said Hernandez-Diaz appeared to have died by suicide.

The 43-year-old was one of a growing number of immigration detainees to be held in a private prison, with ICE's use of the private detention facilities seeing a surge under the Trump administration.

According to ICE, Hernandez-Diaz had entered the agency's custody on May 20, 2019, two days after being stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas.

ICE said he had initially been "deemed inadmissable" under the Immigration and Nationality Act, but did not expand on why that was.

The agency said he was transferred into ICE custody, however, while his claim "for an immigration benefit" was processed.

According to BuzzFeed, which obtained an internal document from ICE filling in the blanks on Hernandez-Diaz's case, the Cuban national had claimed that he had reasons to fear for his safety if forced to return to Cuba.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials reportedly viewed his fears as "credible" in an initial screening.

At the time of his death, Hernandez-Diaz would have been in ICE custody for nearly five months.

According to ICE, his case was still pending before federal immigration courts at the time of the apparent suicide.

Speaking to BuzzFeed, Hernandez-Diaz's wife, Yarelis Gutierrez, 43, said she had last spoken to her husband earlier this month on October 9, with her spouse expressing frustration over his case.

According to Gutierrez, Hernandez-Diaz had been upset over officials demanding that he provide more evidence to support his claims of facing persecution in Cuba if forced to return.

"He told me he was going to participate in a hunger strike because of the abuse he endured in detention," Gutierrez said. "He never said he was going to hurt or kill himself. This is all news to me and I don't believe it's true," she said.

Gutierrez had said that her husband had already faced persecution by the Cuban government, asserting that he had been imprisoned for nine years after speaking out against the country's leadership.

Before his death, he had tried to leave Cuba at least three times, twice in 1994 and a third time in 2001, she said.

ICE has said that it 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."

"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," the agency said.

Hernandez-Diaz's death is the second to take place in ICE custody in the span of a month, however, with a 37-year-old man from Cameroon who had been held at a facility in San Diego dying from a brain hemorrhage on October 1.

Guards prepare to escort an immigrant detainee from his 'segregation cell' back into the general population at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California. ICE has confirmed the death of a second person in its custody in a single month. John Moore/Getty