New York, NY – September 29, 2019 – The Intercept has published a feature story by journalist José Olivares, in partnership with PRI’s The Takeaway, focused on the suicide of Efraín Romero de la Rosa, a Mexican immigrant with a history of mental illness diagnoses who spent four months in ICE custody –– and died on the 21st day of solitary confinement at Stewart Detention Center.
The story also provides a rare glimpse into U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainee practices and excessive use of solitary confinement, revealing how detainees with mental illnesses are often treated in immigration detention. Backed by a successful public records request, which made available emails, investigation summaries, photos, and 18 hours of security camera footage of Romero’s last day at Stewart, Olivares’s feature shows that “CoreCivic staff at the Stewart Detention Facility may have violated their own rules when dealing with the mentally ill detainee.”
Olivares continues: “From the intake process to the disciplinary process — and even on the night he committed suicide — the CoreCivic staff neglected to properly care for the man in their custody who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.”
An accompanying 10-minute film by The Intercept video producer Travis Mannon documents the final 18 hours of Romero’s 21st day in solitary — his last day alive — by juxtaposing security camera footage and state investigators’ audio interviews with medical staff, correctional staff, and other men held in the same solitary confinement cell block. The film provides a harrowing but necessary account of the stunning neglect and publicly funded torture that drove a 40-year-old Mexican immigrant with schizophrenia to suicide.
Romero, who had a history of mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, mentally deteriorated following multiple stints in solitary confinement for infractions the government agency failed to provide. Solitary confinement has been documented as a catalyst for mental health issues, and ICE has been known to throw detainees in solitary for incredibly small infractions — such as refusing to participate in so-called voluntary labor.
Of the roughly 55,000 migrants in ICE custody, 1,996 have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. “Despite Romero’s prior placement on suicide watch, his fixation on the concept of death, and even being placed in a mental health institution — all while in ICE custody — CoreCivic correctional staff sentenced Romero to solitary confinement for 30 days,” Olivares writes.
Cases of death in ICE custody are typically safeguarded from the public. The documents, photos, video, and audio obtained by the Intercept and PRI’s The Takeaway provide a rare glimpse into the ICE detention centers and the migrants subjected to questionable conditions and practices.
For more information on the piece or to speak with the journalists involved in this story, please reach out to Rodrigo Brandão at [email protected]
About José Olivares:
José Olivares is a multimedia journalist and an associate producer with WNYC’s “The Takeaway.” His work has been published by NPR, USA Today Network publications, NACLA Report, and others. He is originally from Mexico City and is based in New York.
About Travis Mannon:
Travis Mannon is a video producer based in Brooklyn. He produces, edits, and creates motion graphics for news and opinion video for The Intercept website and social media platforms. He also pitches, develops, and produces original videos, with a particular emphasis on long and short-term OSINT and visual investigations. He received a master’s degree from NYU’s Studio 20 program, where he studied digital innovation in the media.
About The Intercept:
The Intercept is an award-winning nonprofit news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Its in-depth investigations and unflinching analysis focus on surveillance, war, corruption, the environment, technology, criminal justice, the media and more.