Roger Rayson, a 47-year-old Jamaican immigrant, died last week at a Louisiana-area hospital while in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. He was the first immigrant detainee to die under the Trump administration, which is seeking to rapidly expand the use of detention centers to detain more immigrants.
Rayson died of apparent cardiac arrest at the Lafayette General Hospital in Lafayette on March 13, an ICE press release stated, nearly two months after the New Orleans ICE office took custody of him. The statement said that Rayson was transferred from the LaSalle Detention Facility, an immigration detention center in Louisiana, to a nearby hospital on February 11 for nausea, vomiting, and increased pain. Doctors diagnosed him with Burkitt Lymphoma (non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), a fast-growing lymphoma that is curable by treatment. He died within nine days of being transferred to Lafayette General Hospital.
Prior to being transferred over to immigration detention, Rayson had been serving a 30-month prison sentence for importation of cocaine. Rayson was the fourth detainee to die in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the ICE agency statement. In total, 166 people have died in ICE custody between 2003 and late November 2016.
The circumstances leading up to Rayson’s death are unclear. But Rayson wasn’t the first immigrant detainee to die at the LaSalle Detention Facility, which is owned and operated by the controversial private-prison operator GEO Group. Within the first six months of 2016, two detainees at LaSalle died of heart ailments, while a third died of liver failure after being admitted for possible sepsis. Another detainee died of cancer when she was released from LaSalle in part because she received inadequate medical care despite repeatedly throwing up, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) revealed in a 2016 report. The report also found that LaSalle lacks a medical staff where nurses can’t prescribe medication.
Advocates point out that there isn’t enough oversight at immigration detention facilities, particularly at those operated by the two largest private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCIVIC (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America). Most recently, the advocacy group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) filed a complaint after detention center visitors were restricted access at 14 immigration detention facilities across the country. In response, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan told CIVIC that its agency had a “strong desire” to continue to facilitate access to the facilities.
As the Trump administration seeks to expand the use of detention centers, advocates are worried that there will be more cases of abuse, neglect, and even possible death. The president signed an executive order that broadens the scope of crimes that could lead to deportations, which would theoretically put more immigrants in detention centers as they await their court hearings.
“The thing about companies like GEO is that they are interested in the bottom line,” Danny Cendejas, the organizing director at the advocacy group Detention Watch Network, told ThinkProgress. “They see the detention of immigrants and people in incarceration as a mechanism for profit. It’s exemplified in the employees throughout, like in the way that guards are — from being verbally abusive or maintaining neglectful conditions.”
“The system is full of medical neglect and terrible conditions that no one should be in, so thinking of the fact that the administration is trying to expand the system and expand the profiteering of the system, it’s frankly disgusting,” said Cendejas.