Lawmakers still awaiting answers on ICE detainee's death in Tacoma | KNKX

Lawmakers still awaiting answers on ICE detainee's death in Tacoma

Dec 11, 2018

Federal lawmakers from Washington state said they're still waiting on answers from immigration authorities about a detainee who died in Tacoma last month.

Mergensana Amar, 40, attempted suicide at the Northwest Detention Center on Nov. 15, and was taken off life support days later at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The native of Russia was slated for deportation that month after his request for asylum was denied.

Days after Amar's death, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith asked for a number of documents and posed several questions to the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They said they sought to find out whether the death could have been prevented.

The lawmakers, in a letter, asked acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello for a response by Tuesday.

ICE acknowledged their requests, but the agency has not provided the documents or answers, representatives of the lawmakers' offices said Tuesday.

"These types of requests are handled via official correspondence," ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman said Tuesday. "As you know, we do not comment on pending investigations."

The lawmakers also asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office to open an investigation into Amar's death. 

Again, the request was acknowledged, but the lawmakers have not heard whether or not there will be an investigation, representatives of their offices said.

Amar was the second detainee to die in the 14-year history of the Northwest Detention Center, which is located on Tacoma's tideflats and holds up to 1,575 people at a time as they go through deportation proceedings. The facility is run by a private company, the GEO Group, under a contract with ICE.

Documents requested by the lawmakers include a timeline of when Amar was moved to different areas of the detention center and why he was moved, a timeline of medical services he received, and any reports related to his death.

The lawmakers also asked whether anyone ever questioned if Amar was a threat to his safety; whether he was ever threatened with force feeding while he was on a hunger strike; and whether he was ever denied privileges such as access to the law library, telephone, or television.