ICE Called on to Release Detainees After Father Kills Himself at Family Detention Center

Immigration advocates have renewed calls for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to release detained immigrants amid the coronavirus outbreak after a father kept at a family detention center in Texas killed himself on Wednesday.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) said its team had been left "in shock [and] deeply disturbed" after learning that the father, who the organization had been representing, had died by suicide at the Karnes County Residential Center.

"The father was our client [and] we were fighting for his and his family's freedom," RAICES said in a Twitter thread published on Wednesday.

Laying blame for the incident on the Trump administration's shoulders, RAICES said: "We stand in solidarity with the family that has to bear this tragedy due to the injustice of Trump's draconian anti-immigrant policies."

"We're both devastated by this news but also very angry," the organization said, with the suicide marking the ninth death in ICE custody in the 2020 fiscal year.

In the days leading up to the father's death, RAICES and other immigration advocacy groups had repeatedly called on ICE to release families detained at the Karnes County Residential Center, as well as immigrants being held at other facilities across the U.S., amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"ICE is currently imprisoning roughly 700 people at Karnes, including pregnant women, children, and babies," RAICES said.

A number of detainees, the organization continued, "have told us how frightened they are to be locked in detention as the coronavirus spreads throughout the country."

One detainee, RAICES said, told workers: "My wife has ovarian cysts. She is in lots of pain [and] has gone to the doc here many times but has been told treatment is not available. If this is how this center handles routine medical care, I fear for our lives if the virus reaches us [and] we are stuck here."

While ICE has announced new measures aimed at curbing interior enforcement in the U.S. and detention in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, RAICES has demanded that the agency take further action and "release all immigrant detainees immediately."

Instead of being forced to stay in detention facilities while their immigration cases are processed, immigration advocates have recommended that most detainees be allowed to stay with family members or at other accommodations across the country.

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union launched a lawsuit against ICE demanding that detainees with vulnerable immune systems be released from a facility in Washington, where the coronavirus outbreak has hit particularly hard.

An immigrant detainee looks from his 'segregation cell' at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California. John Moore/Getty

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in partnership with the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Right Project (NWIRP), said detainees at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center could be especially put at risk, with the majority of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. occurring in the state.

RAICES has said that holding immigrants in "dirty and cramped" detention centers "in the face of a pandemic is unsafe and inhumane."

"We anticipate that this won't be the last death at Karnes unless ICE immediately releases all those detained at this detention center and in custody around the country," the organization said.

Newsweek has contacted ICE for comment.