The main entrance to Otay Mesa Detention Center in south San Diego, Calif. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Man dies in ICE custody in San Diego

SAN DIEGO — A 37-year-old man from Cameroon died Tuesday in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, after undergoing treatment for a brain hemorrhage since Sept. 26 at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

Nebane Abienwi was being detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, according to an ICE news release. He was rushed to the emergency room Thursday after experiencing a hypertensive event in the middle of the night, according to the news release.

BuzzFeed News first reported on the man’s in-custody death Wednesday.

The man applied for admission into the United States in early September at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

According to DHS records, he did not have proper entry documents when he crossed on Sept. 5 through the port of entry. He was transferred to ICE custody on Sept. 19, according to ICE.

Physicians at Sharp Chula Vista provided treatment to Abienwi, who was non-responsive to questions. He appeared paralyzed on his left side and remained in the hospital until he passed away Tuesday, according to ICE.

Medical staff at the hospital pronounced Abienwi dead on Oct. 1. His next of kin and the Consulate General of Cameroon were notified of his death.

Physicians identified the cause of Abienwi’s death as brain death secondary to basal ganglia hemorrhage, ICE said.

The agency said Abienwi received comprehensive medical care while he was in custody.

“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,” a statement from ICE said. “Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a small fraction of the rate of the U.S. detained population as a whole.”

Abienwi’s death is the first in ICE custody in the new fiscal year, which began Tuesday, as BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday morning.

Eight inmates died in ICE custody in fiscal year 2019, according to a review of news releases on the agency’s website.

The last person to die in ICE custody was a 37-year-old Mexican national who had been in custody at the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility (MCACF) in Woodstock, Illinois. Roberto Rodriquez-Espinoza died September 10 at a local hospital, after being placed into ICE custody on September 3.

He died from a subdural hematoma, or a brain bleed typically associated with a traumatic brain injury.

According to an ICE press release about Rodriguez-Espinoza’s death, facility staff at MCACF noticed Rodriguez-Espinoza acting confused on Sept. 7 and a doctor ordered him to be transported to the hospital.

ICE is required to post a news release about each in-custody death, a spokeswoman said. The news release is typically posted on ICE’s website after the deceased’s next of kin and other required governmental agencies are notified.

A February 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network, and the National Immigrant Justice Center, asserted that “egregious violations of ICE medical care standards played a prominent role in eight deaths in immigration detention facilities from 2010 to 2012.”

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