Death of Immigrant Detainee Reveals Poor Conditions at ICE Jails

Protesting the death of Rolando Meza-Espinoza. (Photo via Reporte Hispano)

The death of Honduran-born Rolando Meza-Espinoza – who died two weeks after arriving at the privately-managed Hudson County Correctional Facility, an immigrant detention center in Kearny – is just a result of the poor medical attention provided to detainees.

After drafting and filing the complaint for the case, the family’s attorney told Reporte Hispano that he “is considering asking for compensation.”

He spoke about this during a protest held at the facility by pro-immigrant groups and members of the clergy.

The prison personnel did not make it easy for them: First, the protesters were moved from the front of the jail and later from the corner of Hackensack Avenue, closest to the detention center. The exchanges were always peaceful.

His lawyer, Luis Portella, said during his speech that Meza-Espinoza was arrested on Long Island, New York, in March while he was working at a construction site, and was later transferred to the Kearny, New Jersey, facility. His health presented a terrible clinical picture: Meza-Espinoza suffered from diabetes, cirrhosis and anemia.

According to a press release distributed by the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, the detainee’s relatives alerted ICE authorities of his condition a number of times, but he was never provided appropriate medication.

Meza-Espinoza’s health worsened in jail, and he was taken to the Jersey City Medical Center’s intensive care unit on June 8 with severe intestinal bleeding. On June 10, he died. His family was only notified on June 12, when they called to ask for an update on the detainee’s condition.

Rosa Santana, from First Friends of New Jersey and New York, an organization whose mission is to make visits twice per week to immigrants jailed at that detention center, told Reporte Hispano that the Honduras native was only being given medication for his diabetes.

We asked if the family was supposed to provide the medicine. “We don’t know why they were not giving him the rest of his medicines. The attorney is looking into that,” Santana replied.

The activist added that they have often noticed during the organization’s visits that inmates are not provided proper medication. For that reason, when they found out about Meza-Espinoza’s death, they attributed it to prison staff failing to provide his medication and treatment for his medical condition.

“Detainees are often just given ibuprofen, which has nothing to do with [the ailments] they may have,” said Santana.

In addition to the irregularities they have detected in Meza-Espinoza’s case, the organization has recognized problems with dental services.

Santana employed a concerned tone while explaining the situation. “The last time we went to the detention center, we found two detainees whose front teeth were missing. One of them told me that the dentist is more than 85 years old and that he didn’t even realize that he had extracted the detainee’s front tooth,” said Santana.

Last year, First Friends filed a complaint against Hudson County on behalf of 61 people who complained that they were being mistreated, that they were not being provided their medicines and that they were being treated unfairly. They also complained about the food.

As a result of the complaint, said Santana, a committee is currently holding monthly meetings to evaluate the situation of the inmates and propose improvements.

“Still, it is very hard for them to solve anything because food and health services are handled by private companies, so it’s very hard to tell what is really going on or to do anything about it,” she said.

Finally, Santana explained that these problems are getting worse due to the growing number of people entering the detention center.

At press time, ICE authorities had not responded to a request from Reporte Hispano to offer their version of this story.

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