Washington — A 39-year-old immigrant from the United Kingdom died at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Florida over the weekend in what officials described as an apparent self-inflicted strangulation. It marks the fifth death of a person in the agency's custody in the past four months.
The death of Ben James Owen on Saturday evening is also the third apparent self-inflicted strangulation of an ICE detainee since October. Before fiscal year 2020 started that month, eight detained immigrants died in the agency's custody in all of fiscal year 2019. Owen's death at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, was first reported by BuzzFeed News.
CBS News first reported the October death of Roylan Hernández Díaz, a Cuban asylum-seeker who also died by apparent self-inflicted strangulation at one of several private facilities in Louisiana used by ICE to detain hundreds of immigrants. Late last month, a Nigerian immigrant in ICE custody also died by apparent suicide at a Maryland jail. A couple of days later, a French citizen died in a New Mexico hospital while in the agency's custody.
Before Hernández Díaz's death, a 37-year-old man from Cameroon held at an ICE facility in San Diego died on October 1.
Conditions at detention facilities used by ICE, which oversees the largest component of the nation's immigration detention system, have come under severe scrutiny by immigration advocates and Democrats. They've accused the agency of not having adequate medical standards in its facilities and have called on officials to allow asylum-seekers who do not pose threats to public safety to fight their deportation outside of detention centers.
But ICE has maintained that deaths in the agency's custody "are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S."
"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," the agency said in a statement regarding Owen's death.
According to ICE, Owen was taken into custody after he was arrested earlier this month in Port Orange, Florida, for "felony aggravated stalking after injunction, felony false imprisonment, domestic assault, and violating the conditions of his pre-trial release." ICE said Owen was also awaiting trial for a domestic battery charge following a November 2019 arrest.
Owen, ICE added, entered the U.S. legally last summer, but he overstayed his non-immigrant visa, which expired in December.