[Pnews] Correction: Hours after Crosscut reported that a detainee had died at the Northwest Detention Center, officials stated that he had been transported to a medical facility
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Nov 17 15:34:54 EST 2018
Detainee is alive and hospitalized, says ICE
by Lilly Fowler
Correction: Hours after Crosscut reported that a detainee had died at
the Northwest Detention Center, officials stated that he had been
transported to a medical facility.
November 16, 2018
A medical treatment room is shown at the Northwest Detention Center in
Tacoma, Wash., during a media tour on June 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Ted S.
Hours after Crosscut reported that a detainee had died at the Northwest
Detention Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement stated that he was
alive and had been transported to a medical facility.
In a statement to Crosscut, Tanya Roman, a public affairs officer with
the agency, said: “An ICE detainee was transported to the hospital on
the evening of Nov. 15. He is currently receiving medical treatment. The
medical condition he is being treated for is not a result of a hunger
strike. Due to privacy concerns, I am unable to comment further.”
Crosscut reported the story based on a press release that was issued
earlier in the morning by Latino Advocacy. The activist group stated
that a detainee in solitary confinement at the facility watched as
paramedics unsuccessfully attempted to revive another detainee. They
identified the man as Amar Mergensana, a 40-year-old Russian asylum
seeker who was the subject of a Crosscut report published in October.
ICE would not confirm the identity of the detainee in need of medical
In a statement given to a Latino Advocacy attorney and provided to
Crosscut, one detainee said, “On November 15, 2018, at 3:30 p.m., about
20 officers from the detention center, from GEO or ICE, came to Amar’s
room because he was dead. I saw his body when they took it out of the
room.” The statement goes on to give details about the condition of the
body and the inmate’s belief that he died three and a half to four hours
earlier. There was no indication of the inmate’s ability to make medical
judgments about the condition of a body after death.
Maru Mora Villalpando of Latino Advocacy also told Crosscut that members
of the group Northwest Detention Center Resistance, or NWDC Resistance,
had seen paramedics and the Tacoma Police Department parked at the
facility Thursday afternoon.
Officials with GEO Group, the second-largest private prison provider in
the country, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts
with to run the Tacoma facility, had described Mergensana as
“unavailable” to members of NWDC Resistance.
In a statement on Friday, Villalpando said: “We profoundly hope the
reports of Amar’s death in custody are wrong." She asked that ICE
provide more information on his medical condition.
Mergensana hails from Buryatia, a Russian republic in Siberia, just
north of Mongolia. He arrived in the United States to seek asylum last
December and turned himself in at San Ysidro, a border crossing that
sits between Tijuana and San Diego, only to land in the Tacoma detention
center a few weeks later. He feared he would lose his life if forced to
With the help of a Russian interpreter, Crosscut spoke to him in October
on what was the 47th day of his hunger strike. Asked whether he was
hopeful he would be released before his physical health deteriorated,
the detainee had replied, “It doesn’t matter because I’m not going to
Mergensana explained that back home, Russian skinheads had beaten and
threatened him. As evidence of the injuries he had sustained, he pointed
to his right hand, where a finger appeared to be permanently dislocated.
He also said he had been imprisoned for demonstrating for the
independence of Buryatia, which has been under Russian rule since the
In September, ICE obtained an involuntary hydration and medical
treatment order for Mergensana. Although typically under seal, a copy of
the order was obtained by Crosscut.
“The Court finds that there is sufficient cause to believe that without
the requested medical testing and treatment” he is “in danger of
irreparable injury, and possible death,” read the sealed court order.
The order specifies that medical staff at the detention center had
permission to administer fluids intravenously and to perform certain
laboratory tests that check for vital signs.
“It is hereby further ordered that if [name redacted] continues to
refuse the necessary medical treatment and monitoring, ICE and medical
staff … may use soft medical restraints,” reads the order signed by U.S.
District Judge Benjamin H. Settle.
In a statement to Crosscut, ICE denied having to use the forced
hydration order but instead said Mergensana was “voluntarily drinking a
meal replacement shake in lieu of their daily scheduled meals.”
Mergensana, however, told Crosscut he would not have agreed to take any
liquid supplements, such as Pedialyte, an oral electrolyte solution, and
Ensure, a nutritional shake, if not for guards threatening him.
Mergensana also told Grace Meng, a senior researcher with Human Rights
Watch who visited the detainee with a Russian interpreter, that when he
had refused laboratory tests, such as urinalysis, “heavily armored
people, with helmets and shields, came and surrounded him, and told him
if he doesn’t resume eating voluntarily, they will force-feed him
through a tube.” Meng said they then pointed to the court order as if it
provided them with the authority to do so, even though the court order
does not allow for force-feeding. Meng said Mergensana had also been
denied access to the law library, as well as television.
Mergensana is not the only detainee who has complained of retaliation.
On Sept. 7, according to court documents, several hunger strikers were
sentenced to 30 days in isolation. Detention officials explained they
had put inmates in isolation because they were inciting others.
In September, Enoka Herat of the American Civil Liberties Union of
Washington sent a warning letter to the Northwest Detention Center
warden, explaining, “Detainees in ICE custody have the right to engage
in protected First Amendment speech, including participation in hunger
And last month, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to ICE to notify them
of the concerns they had regarding the treatment of inmates
participating in hunger strikes.
“As the Trump administration seeks to increase the number of people
detained and to limit the availability of release, including for asylum
seekers, the desperation of people who have been detained for long
periods will likely grow,” the letter reads. “It is therefore urgent
that you review treatment of hunger strikers and ensure they are treated
humanely and with dignity.”
ICE has denied retaliating against inmates. GEO Group has refused to
answer questions and refers all inquiries to ICE.
The Northwest Detention Center is no stranger to controversy. In 2017,
for instance, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the company
for violating the state’s minimum wage law, paying detainees $1 per day
or, in some instances, with snacks and extra food, for labor.
Rules for gaining asylum have also become more strict under the current
presidential administration. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions
issued a ruling that makes it more difficult for victims of domestic and
gang violence to gain asylum.
In addition, earlier this month, the Trump administration announced that
it would move to deny asylum to all migrants who do not enter through
official border crossings. The American Civil Liberties Union is already
challenging the rule in court. For decades, immigration law has required
that officials allow migrants who fear persecution in their home
countries to seek asylum regardless of whether they entered the United
States legally or illegally.
But even before Sessions announced the changes, the chances of gaining
asylum were low. In 2017, according to the Transactional Records Access
Clearinghouse, or TRAC, at Syracuse University, 30,179 asylum cases were
decided by judges — the largest number of cases since 2005. More than
half, however — 61.8 percent of applicants — were denied asylum status.
Editor's note: The version of this story published earlier this morning
reported the death of the detainee. We are responsible for the accuracy
of all of our stories. We apologize to our readers, to the detainee and
to his family.
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