Stewart Detention Center officials speak on death of man in ICE custody

Updated: Jul. 26, 2019 at 7:02 PM EDT
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LUMPKIN, Ga. (WTVM) - News Leader 9 is digging deeper into the death of a man from Mexico at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin while he was in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Pedro Arriago-Santoya arrived at the Stewart Detention Center on July 10. Ten days later, he reportedly complained of abdominal pain. Four days after that, he was dead.

Arriago-Santoya is the seventh person to pass away while in ICE custody.

“I wish I could say I was surprised, but I really wasn’t," said immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth.

Rosenbluth is the only immigration attorney in Lumpkin, where Arriago-Santoya was detained in the Stewart Detention Center. He said clients tell him all the time how their health concerns aren’t taken seriously.

However, a statement from CoreCivic, who owns the detention center, reads Arriago-Santoya was transferred to a hospital the same day as his original complaint. They say no foul play is suspected.

A spokesperson from ICE said “fatalities in ICE custody occur approximately 100 times less often than they do in both federal and state custody nationwide.”

One woman in Lumpkin, who did not wish to be interviewed, put together a memorial site for the man she had never met. She said he was a human and deserved better treatment than what he received. She even said there is vigil in the works.

“This is probably one of the worst immigration detention centers in the country," Rosenbluth said. "I’ve been down here for two and a half years now full-time, and I think this is the third or fourth death in detention I’ve seen down here.”

A statement from CoreCivic’s Public Affairs Director, Amanda Gilchrist reads:

"On July 20, 2019, the detainee presented himself to Stewart Detention Center health services during sick call. Based on the medical staff’s examination, it was recommended that he be transported to an outside hospital for further treatment. The detainee remained there until his passing on July 24.

Upon notification from the hospital of the passing, CoreCivic staff immediately notified our partners with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an autopsy has been requested. No foul play is suspected and his death appears to be from natural causes.

The detainee arrived at the Stewart Detention Center on July 10 at approximately 11:30pm EDT."

You can find ICE’s full press release here.

This is the additional information an ICE spokesperson provided via email:

"Also, here’s the statistical information that explains the portion where we state how exceptionally rare fatalities are in ICE custody. While any death in custody is unfortunate, and is subject to a full review, the reality is fatalities in ICE custody are exceedingly rare and, statistically, fatalities in ICE custody occur at a small fraction of the national average for detained populations in federal or state custody. ICE had a total of 9 detainee deaths out of more than 396,000 individuals in custody for all of Fiscal Year 2018 -- approximately 2.25 deaths per 100,000 persons.

For context, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics tracks the mortality rate of detained individuals in custody across the nation. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average mortality rate in state prisons from 2001-2014 (the most recent year available) was 256 deaths per 100,000 persons. The mortality rate in federal prisons during the same period was 225 deaths per 100,000. Here's the BJS data:

In short, statistically, fatalities in ICE custody occur approximately 100 times less often that they do in both federal and state custody nationwide. For basic fairness, this context is important."

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