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ICE spokeswoman: Tacoma immigrant detainee on life support

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
A medical treatment room at the Northwest Detention Center, seen during a tour on June 21, 2017

UPDATE, 11 p.m. Nov. 21: Amar Mergensana, 40, is on life support at Tacoma's St. Joseph Medical Center, in the hospital's intensive care unit, according to a statement from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He hasn't regained consciousness since he was found unresponsive at the Northwest Detention Center on Nov. 15. This is a breaking news story. We'll be updating this post as it develops.

A man held at a Tacoma immigrant detention center was transported to a hospital Thursday evening, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Tacoma Police responded to reports of an attempted suicide at the detention center that evening, but no one died, police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.

The ICE spokeswoman declined to identify the detainee or say what he is being treated for, except to say that his condition is not related to a hunger strike.

"Due to privacy concerns, I am unable to comment further," ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman said.

The Northwest Detention Center, located on Tacoma's tideflats, holds up to 1,575 people at a time as they go through deportation proceedings. The facility is operated by a private company, the GEO Group, under a contract with ICE.

Activists who monitor conditions inside the detention center have demanded more information about the incident. 

Members of the activist group Northwest Detention Center Resistance identified the detainee as Amar Mergensana, 40, a native of Russia who has been on hunger strike since Aug. 23. 

KNKX was not able to confirm that with authorities, who have declined to identify the detainee.

"If Amar is alive, as ICE claims, he should be immediately released," Maru Mora Villalpando, a leader of Northwest Detention Center Resistance, said in a statement. "It is evident without a doubt now that Amar is not safe under ICE’s custody and for-profit GEO Group’s management of its facility."

Activists said Mergensana was detained by ICE shortly after he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last December.

Mergensana has refused solid food for 85 days as he protests the federal government's efforts to deport him, according to activists who said they have been monitoring the hunger strike. ICE officials said he drank meal replacement shakes during some of that time. 

No one with Mergensana's name was being treated at Tacoma-area hospitals run by MultiCare or CHI Franciscan, spokespeople for the health systems said Friday evening. Representatives of Madigan Army Medical Center, which is also located near the detention center, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Pierce County medical examiner's office said Friday there was no record of Mergensana's death.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.