Ernesto Rocha-Cuadra, a migrant who died in ICE custody, was held for months despite recommendation for release, SPLC says

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A Nicaraguan national who died last week in federal immigration custody had spent more than one year in detention. Despite having been recommended for release more than seven months ago, he continued to be held in immigration custody, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Ernesto Rocha-Cuadra, 42, died last Friday. His preliminary cause of death was cardiac arrest, according to statement from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In November 2022, an ICE panel recommended Rocha-Cuadra be released from custody, but officials at the facility declined to release him, a statement from the SPLC said.

“The details leading up to this tragic death are still unclear, and his attorneys say Ernesto never mentioned having, nor did his medical records reflect, any heart-related medical issues,” a statement from the SPLC said.

The SPLC said Rocha-Cuadra’s death was the fifth since 2016 at ICE’s facility in Jena, Louisiana.

“For years, the New Orleans ICE Field Office (“NOLA ICE”) and private prison officials have demonstrated a disturbing pattern of deadly medical neglect against the immigrants detained under their authority, disregarding their constitutional rights and engaging in other human rights abuses and violations,” the SPLC said.

Rocha-Cuadra had been scheduled for an immigration hearing on July 9, according to a statement his family.

In a written statement to the press, Rocha-Cuadra’s brother joined a chorus of immigration rights advocates calling for the ICE facility to be investigated.

“He was guaranteed he was coming home. Our message is, we want to know what happened to our Ernesto and we will not stop until we find out,” his brother, Frank Rocha-Cuadra, said.

Rocha-Cuadra had been in immigration custody after crossing the border illegally near Andrade, California, on April 17, 2022, according to a statement from ICE earlier this week.

“ICE remains committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments,” it said in the statement. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment individuals arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay.”

“All people in ICE custody receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to medical appointments and 24-hour emergency care. At no time during detention is a detained noncitizen denied emergent care,” the statement said.

CNN has reached out to ICE for further comment about Rocha-Cuadra’s death.

ICE’s Central Louisiana processing center in Jena, Louisiana, is privately owned by the GEO Group Inc.

In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for the GEO Group said, “We are unable to provide comment regarding specific cases related to individuals in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Healthcare services at the Central Louisiana ICE Processing Center are provided directly by the federal government through the ICE Health Services Corps.”


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