Trinidad and Tobago Migrant Found Dead After 4 Years in ICE Detention

Trinidad and Tobago Migrant Found Dead After 4 Years in ICE Detention

Editorial credit: Grossinger /

By Sunita Sohrabji | Ethnic Media Services

More than 160 detained migrants have embarked on a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, following the death of a migrant who had been held there for more than four years.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed that Charles Leo Daniel, 61, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, passed away March 7. ICE did not state the manner of death, but noted that Daniel had been at the facility since March of 2020. He was moved to the Northwest Detention Center after serving out 220 months in state prison for fatally stabbing Seattle reggae musician Raymond Lindsay, whose stage name was Ras Bongo, in 2003.

In 2020, an immigration judge ordered Daniel to be deported to his home country. But he continued to be held in ICE custody at the NWDC, a private detention center owned by the GEO Group.

Suicide With a Bed Sheet

In 2022, the GEO Group made $1.05 billion in revenue from ICE contracts alone, or 43.9 percent of its total $2.4 billion revenue, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics of the GEO Group and its competitor Core Civic, state that detainees at private detention centers are held for longer periods of time.

ICE can release asylum seekers on bond, without a court hearing, but often chooses not to. The Northwest Detention Center has the worst rate of granting bond releases in the nation.

Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer with La Resistencia and founder of Latino Advocacy, told Ethnic Media Services witnesses had told her that Daniel had committed suicide by hanging himself with a bed sheet. Daniel was held in solitary confinement for over 2 years, said Villalpando. She noted that the deceased man had a history of mental health concerns, but was often denied his medication.

He largely refused to shower, but when he was forced, Daniel would wear his underwear on his head. Several similar habits documented his incoherent and erratic behavior, but Daniel never received mental health or support at NWDC. “It’s very difficult even to get health care, much less mental health care,” said Villalpando.

This is the 2nd death at the NWDC in the past 6 years. Russian immigrant Amar Mergansana successfully committed suicide in 2018, despite being on suicide watch many times at the facility.

Two More Suicide Attempts

Two more detainees at the facility attempted suicide March 11. At approximately 3 a.m., a young man from the Indian state of Punjab attempted suicide using a bed sheet as a rope, tied to the rail of the second story floor of his cell block. A witness at the facility told Villalpandos that 5 GEO guards showed up with cameras and took him away.

Later that day, another young man also tied a bed sheet from the rail and jumped onto the first floor. GEO guards took him in a stretcher outside the unit. Another witness told Villalpando he saw the young man in the stretcher with his eyes closed and his foot moving repeatedly. At 7:05 pm, La Resistencia members witnessed 3 Tacoma Police Department patrol cars leaving NWDC, accompanied by a Tacoma Fire Department truck and an ambulance. The young man could be seen in a stretcher inside the ambulance.

ICE did not confirm the attempted suicides. Officer Shelby Boyd of the Tacoma Police Department told Ethnic Media Services that police had been out to the facility twice on March 11: the first time at 3:42 a.m., and the second at 6:28 p.m. Boyd said each victim was taken to a local area hospital. Both were still alive when police arrived on the scene for each incident.

Boyd said she could not provide any additional information on the attempted suicides, due to privacy concerns.

Hunger Strikers

Villalpando said the 160 detainees who embarked on a hunger strike March 8 fear for their lives in the “inhumane and unbearable conditions” at the NWDC. They fear extended periods of solitary confinement that might lead them to choose suicide, she said. The strikers are demanding that they be immediately released on bond.

This is the third hunger strike at NWDC since the start of 2024. On Jan. 2, more than 50 men, all from Punjab, launched a hunger strike to protest unbearable conditions and long periods of detention at the facility.

Border Bill

Hunger strikes have been a frequent occurrence at ICE detention centers since at least 2014. ICE has used harsh tactics to shut down the strikes, such as force feeding through gastric or nasal tubes.

Villalpando criticized President Joe Biden’s March 7 State of the Union address, at which the president urged Congress to send him a bipartisan border bill. The administration had released its own plan, which would have drastically tightened asylum rules, and empowered U.S. border officials to summarily deport migrants. It would have also provided additional money to fund border operations and hire additional personnel, including immigration judges, asylum officers and Border Patrol agents.

Congressional Review

Surprisingly, the bill — which many immigration advocates criticized as a throwback to Trump era policy — was quashed by Republicans.

Villalpando said the President was throwing more money at for-profit detention centers. “How many more tragedies need to happen before they are shut down?” she queried.

The immigration activist has asked for a Congressional review of the conditions at NWDC. The facility is in the district of Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Washington. EMS calls to Kilmer’s office had not been returned by press time.

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