Cuban migrant who waited 5 months for asylum hearing found dead at U.S. detention center

Roylán Hernández Díaz
Roylán Hernández Díaz

After five months in U.S detention waiting for a court hearing on his asylum application, Cuban migrant Roylán Hernández Díaz apparently died by suicide Tuesday at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana. , U.S. officials confirmed.

Relatives told El Nuevo Herald that Hernandez, 43, feared being deported to Cuba and that at the time of his death he was being held in an isolation area known as “the pit.”

“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,” the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) said in a statement sent to the Nuevo Herald.

Hernandez recently appeared before an immigration court, and relatives said he told the 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 said.

Hernández and his wife crossed the border May 18 in El Paso, Texas, according to the ICE statement. Fellow cell mates told El Nuevo Herald that he had staged a hunger strike to complain against 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. In Louisiana, the detainees face very bad conditions. They are treated badly, and the authorities don’t believe that they are politically persecuted,” said one relative who requested anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

Another Cuban migrant, Osleivy Carnaval, sewed his lips together to protest the denial of his political asylum application. During the Trump administration, more than 800 Cubans have been deported to the island, many of them subjected to expedited removals after U.S. immigration courts denied their requests.

“The other detainees in Roylán’s cell have decided to … protest his death and the bad conditions under which the detainees are held. We relatives are desperate and we don’t have news of what’s happening with them. We need someone who will listen to us,” said another relative who requested anonymity.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and well-being of everyone in its custody, and its launching an exhaustive review of this incident throughout the agency, as it does in all cases,” the agency’s statement said. “Deaths in ICE custody are extremely rare.”

Louisiana has become one of the largest migrant detention areas for the Trump administration. Official figures show that 8,000 migrants are detained there, compared to 51,000 in the entire United States.

Most of the detention centers in the state, generally far from big cities and migrant rights advocates, are former criminal prisons.

Immigration attorney Alejandro Vázquez said the situation in Louisiana is “despairing” for most of the migrants detained there.

“The delays in the processes, together with the fact that the majority don’t get parole or the right to bail, makes the people who fall into those detention center have very little hope of getting out and very difficult conditions,” said Vázquez.

“The percentage of cases that are granted political asylum there is very low because it is a very rigorous process. In fact, the treatment is different compared to other detention centers,” he added. “If the asylum process is denied and there’s an appeal, the migrants spend even more time detained, which means spending months in those centers and the real possibility of a deportation to Cuba.”

A recent Associated Press report quoted Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan as saying that the arrival of the detained migrants had been a “blessing” for the local economy because it generated new jobs.

ICE has a five-year contract with La Salle Corrections, which manages the detention centers.

Jordan told the AP that ICE pays about $70 per day per detainee, more than double what the state of Louisiana had been paying. The national average cost of detainees stands at about $133 per day.