Advocates fear mass suicide at ICE facility in Southern NM

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Editor’s note: This article was updated with a response from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) ⁠— Two Cuban asylum seekers detained at the Otero County Processing Center attempted to commit suicide by slitting their wrists, and about 19 others have threatened to follow suit, immigrant advocates said Thursday.

Border Report spoke via phone with volunteers from the Las Cruces-based Advocate Visitors with Immigrants in Detention (AVID) in the Chihuahuan Desert. They said ICE detainees reached out to them from the facility in Otero County, New Mexico, warning about the situation and their intent to participate in a hunger strike sit-in on Friday.

Margaret Brown Vega and Nathan Craig, volunteers with AVID in the Chihuahuan Desert told Border Report that those individuals are now threatening mass suicide.

Border Report reached out to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson, who confirmed Friday that two Cuban detainees, ages 29 and 28, attempted to harm themselves, “in an effort to bring attention to their immigration cases.” However, the ICE spokesperson noted both detainees only managed to scratch their wrists.

The ICE statement its entirety reads as follows: “During the weekend of Oct. 12, two ICE detainees from Cuba, (29 & 28 years old) housed at the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) in Chaparral, New Mexico, in an effort to bring attention to their immigration cases, separately attempted to harm themselves by scratching their wrists with their detention identification cards. In keeping with ICE suicide-prevention and intervention protocols, officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), and OCPC medical staff, acted immediately to end both displays where no dermal injury occurred; they also took strong precautionary measures and placed both detainees under close observation. The day after these incidents, both detainees were cleared by medical and mental health authorities; they were discharged from close observation to the general population.”

Brown Vega and Craig, whose organization meets with people detained to monitor human rights in detention facilities, have penned two separate letters to members of the New Mexico’s congressional delegation, urging them to visit those who are protesting; call for their immediate release; initiate a comprehensive investigation of the facility.

A Cuban man who legally sought asylum died by apparent suicide while being detained at an immigration jail in Louisiana, authorities said Wednesday.

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