A Cuban asylum-seeker who had spent five months in U.S. detention waiting for a court hearing on his case was found dead of an apparent suicide at a private prison in Louisiana.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed the death of Roylan Hernandez-Diaz on Wednesday. The 43-year-old man was being held in an isolation area known as “the pit” at the Richwood Correctional Center, a private facility operated by the firm LaSalle Corrections.
“The preliminary cause of death appears to be self-inflicted strangulation, but the case is currently under investigation. In accordance with the agency’s protocols, the appropriate agencies have been notified about the death, including the Office of the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department and the ICE Office for Professional Responsibility,” ICE said in a statement sent to El Nuevo Herald.
Hernandez-Diaz, who first entered ICE custody in May after being apprehended at the El Paso Port of Entry, feared being deported to Cuba. The man recently appeared before an immigration court, where relatives said he told guards that he would leave the detention center “free or dead.”
“He was afraid of being deported to Cuba. He had recently received a date for another court hearing. Those people inside are desperate,” one of the relatives told the newspaper.
Hernandez-Diaz’s cell mates told the publication that he once organized a hunger strike to protest inhumane conditions at the detention center.
“They were hopeful that they would be freed or at least released on parole, but months went by and they were still detained,” one relative said of the strike. “In Louisiana, the detainees face very bad conditions. They are treated badly, and the authorities don’t believe that they are politically persecuted.”
Under the Trump administration, more than 800 Cubans have been deported to the Caribbean island. According to the Miami Herald, many of them were expelled through expedited removals because U.S. immigration courts denied their requests.
Hernandez-Diaz is the second person to be found dead in ICE custody this fiscal year, which started this month. Last year, eight inmates died.