A Mexican immigrant’s death in September near Houston after he was evacuated from the path of Hurricane Irma marked the deadliest year for immigrants held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in nearly a decade, the Houston Chronicle reports. Felipe Almazan-Ruiz, 51, was taken to a hospital after being booked into an immigration contract detention facility in Livingston. He had been arrested by ICE in Florida in July, but ended up in Texas after hurricanes struck both states. He died Sept. 17 from cardiac arrest. Twelve immigrants died in detention in the 2017 fiscal year, the most since fiscal year 2009. Ten died in government custody the year before. Nationwide, more than 30,000 immigrants are held in ICE detention facilities.
The number of deaths alarms immigration activists, who accuse immigration officials and detention center operators of providing delayed or substandard medical care and ignoring complaints of illness. “Simply put, detention and deportation are a deadly business,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. He said the “high-profile failings of the detention system in Texas” make him worried about plans to increase the number of detainees held at privately owned facilities in the state. A 1000-bed for-profit detention center is set to open this year in Conroe, already home to another detention facility. ICE defends its record of overseeing centers run by private and government entities. “ICE has made substantial progress on implementing reforms across its detention system, and that important work is ongoing,” said spokeswoman Leticia Zamarripa. She said the agency has simplified the process for detainees to get outside medical care and designated coordinators to monitor detainees with complicated cases.