A Cuban asylum seeker who spent months in the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana died by apparent suicide on Oct. 15, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE officials confirmed that Roylan Hernández-Díaz, 43, was brought to the center in May after being caught at the El Paso Port of Entry, according to News 6 in Miami.
Hernández-Díaz, who was born in Pinar del Rio, according to Univision, had been transferred to the facility on May 20. He was frustrated that his immigration case was still pending in federal immigration court. Before his apparent suicide, he reportedly had been placed in solitary confinement and went on a hunger strike while inside the center.
Richwood Correctional Center is a medium-security detention center that has a maximum capacity of about 1,100 people. Hernández-Díaz’s prolonged detention and the horrific conditions are gripes of which many detainees have complained. For the Cuban migrant, returning to Cuba was not an option. He had expressed that he would either be free or die.
“We came to this country in search of liberty. And we’ve found death and detention,” another Cuban immigrant detained at Richwood Correctional Center told CBS News.
In a Spanish-language interview with Univision, Yarelis Gutierrez Barros, Hernández-Díaz’s girlfriend who lives in Tampa, said that she doesn’t believe his death was a suicide. She also noted how he expressed ideas of resistance in the letters he wrote to her and that he had been suffering from an infection of his glands but had allegedly been denied medical treatment.
“He asked them to take him to the doctor, and they didn’t take him,” she said. “They didn’t help him.”
After Hernández-Díaz’s death, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement calling for “the immediate suspension of the use of solitary confinement in ICE detention centers.”
“Solitary confinement is torture and should — under any circumstances — be used against asylum-seekers engaging in peaceful protest. We will not stand by while ICE tortures people who are exercising their right to seek asylum in the United States,” said Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.
Hernández-Díaz’s next of kin in Cuba has been notified. The devastated family is waiting to find out if ICE plans to send his body back to his native country for funeral services. ICE has not made a comment.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.