Mexican immigrant's apparent suicide marks 7th death in ICE custody in 5 months

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

A 34-year-old Mexican immigrant who was being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody died on Thursday in what officials described as an apparent suicide. David Hernandez Colula is the seventh person to die in ICE custody in five months and, according to officials, the fourth person to die by self-inflicted strangulation during that same period.

Last fiscal year, which ended in October, eight detained immigrants died in ICE custody.

Hernandez Colula died early Thursday at a hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, the agency said. His death, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, comes nearly three months after he was taken into ICE custody in December.

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"The preliminary cause of death appears to be self-inflicted strangulation; however, the case is currently under investigation," ICE said in a statement Friday.

He was taken into custody after he was released from a Michigan jail following a December 2019 arrest by the Sturgis Police Department for an outstanding domestic assault warrant, according to ICE.

According to the agency, Hernandez Colula was apprehended by Border Patrol back in December 2014 in Rochester, New York, near the U.S.-Canada border. He was transferred to ICE at the time and then was released on bond and allowed to continue his immigration proceedings outside of detention.

Following internal policy, ICE said it notified Hernandez Colula's family about his death, as well as the Mexican consulate, the agency's Office of Professional Responsibility, and the Homeland Security Inspector General.

Conditions at detention facilities used by ICE, which oversees the main component of the largest immigration detention system in the world, have come under severe scrutiny by immigration advocates and Democrats. They've accused the agency of not having adequate medical standards in its facilities and have called on officials to allow asylum-seekers who do not pose threats to public safety to fight their deportation outside of detention centers.

But ICE has repeatedly maintained that deaths in the agency's custody "are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S."

"ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases," the agency said in a statement.

CBS News first reported the October death of Roylan Hernández Díaz, a Cuban asylum-seeker who also died by apparent self-inflicted strangulation at one of several private facilities in Louisiana used by ICE to detain hundreds of immigrants. Before Hernández Díaz's death, a 37-year-old man from Cameroon held at an ICE facility in San Diego died on October 1.

In late December 2019, a Nigerian immigrant in ICE custody also died by apparent suicide at a Maryland jail. A couple of days later, a French citizen died in a New Mexico hospital while in the agency's custody. Late last month, a British 39-year-old immigrant died at an ICE facility in Florida by apparent self-inflicted strangulation. Two days later, another immigrant from Cuba died at a Florida hospital while in the agency's custody.

First published on February 21, 2020 / 5:23 PM

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Camilo Montoya-Galvez Camilo Montoya-Galvez

Camilo Montoya-Galvez is the immigration reporter at CBS News. Based in Washington, he covers immigration policy and politics. Twitter: @camiloreports