Immigrant dies after being held at Georgia detention center accused of poor medical care

The detainee, who was held at the Stewart Detention Center, was the third person to die in a Georgia detention center since last May.

LUMPKIN, GA - MAY 4: Detainees at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. are escorted through a corridor. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
LUMPKIN, GA - MAY 4: Detainees at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. are escorted through a corridor. (Photo by Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A Cuban immigrant held at a federal immigration detention center in Georgia died Tuesday, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release, making him the third immigrant detainee death in Georgia since last May.

Yulio Castro-Garrido, a 33-year-old Cuban immigrant held at the Stewart Detention Center, died about two weeks after he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

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“After diagnosis, Mr. Castro initially resisted medical treatment which caused his condition to worsen,” according to the ICE press release. “On Jan. 9, IHSC staff coordinated the transfer of Castro to the Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital (PPMH) in Albany, Ga. where he was placed on a ventilator to stabilize him.”

Hospital personnel transported Castro to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida where he slipped into a coma five days later and “never regained consciousness.”

The ICE agency has alerted next of kin, the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. The case will also be reviewed by ICE senior leadership and subdivisions within the agency.

Castro was the second detainee to die in ICE custody in the 2018 fiscal year, according to ICE. Castro was also the third detainee to die while being held in a Georgia immigration detention center since last May, as pointed out by Azadeh Shahshahani, the Legal & Advocacy Director at the immigrant advocacy group Project South.

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Jean Jimenez-Joseph, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Panama, was the last detainee to die at the Stewart Detention Center in May 2017. According to an ICE press release at the time, Jimenez-Joseph died from “self-inflicted strangulation.” An Indian immigrant briefly in ICE custody died in Georgia died two days later in a hospital after being transported from the Atlanta City Detention Center.

According to ICE’s 2011 Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS) , the guidelines adopted by the Stewart facility regarding the treatment of immigrant detainees , the facility should provide detainees with a “continuum of health care services.”

ICE’s press release on Castro’s death reported he had resisted medical treatment. That claim left at least one immigrant advocate skeptical. Christina Fialho, co-founder of the immigrant rights group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that “in reality the agency has time and time again failed to provide proper medical care.”

Fialho’s observation of poor medical care at Georgia’s largest immigration detention center has been well documented by various immigrant advocacy groups, many of whom have advocated for the closure of detention centers.

The Detention Watch Network in the past found that Stewart Detention Center detainees “interviewed reported that it can take days or even weeks for medical requests to be answered.” The ACLU of Georgia filed a lawsuit on behalf of a deceased immigrant detainee in 2009, charging that the nursing staff did not provide timely medical intervention for the detainee despite having a treatable disease.

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May 2017 Project South report found Stewart detainees with dietary restrictions and medical conditions like diabetes “received inadequate diets for their medical needs.” One Salvadoran detainee said that the medical staff “only gives out pain killers” and was given a medical treatment to “drink more water.” The report also found that the medical unit was “desperately understaffed,” a persistent problem since at least 2012 when there was only one doctor and seven nurses on staff.

“As our year-long documentation showed, access to healthcare at Stewart is grossly inadequate,” Shahshahani said in an emailed statement. “As such, many questions surround this death. Ultimately, given the systematic human rights violations at Stewart, the facility needs to be shut down immediately.”