CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported that Amar Mergensana died in ICE custody.
A Russian immigrant in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody on Thursday had a “severe medical crisis” and was hospitalized after hunger striking for nearly three months, immigrant advocates told Rewire.News.
Amar Mergensana is an asylum seeker from Buryatia, a Russian republic located in Siberia. He presented himself at a port of entry in December 2017, but was transferred to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, a few weeks later, where he was denied asylum. On August 23, he joined a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center that was launched in solidarity with the National Prison Strike.
Mergensana continued his strike after other detained people ended their protest, telling advocates he would continue to starve himself until “he either died or was released,” according to a press release. Like other hunger strikers, ICE reportedly threatened Mergensana with forced feeding.
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ICE in a statement to Rewire.News denied that a detained person had been hospitalized because of a hunger strike. “An ICE detainee was transported to the hospital on the evening of Nov. 15,” the agency said. “He is currently receiving medical treatment. The medical condition he is being treated for is not a result of a hunger strike.”
Advocates with the undocumented-led immigrant rights group Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDC Resistance) said they received a phone call from another detained person inside the Northwest Detention Center who said he saw paramedics tend to Mergensana. Both paramedics and Tacoma Police Department vehicles were seen at the detention center Thursday afternoon, an unusual sight at the facility, said Maru Mora Villalpando, a spokesperson for NWDC Resistance.
When advocates attempted to visit Mergensana the following day, they were told by detention center staff that he was “unavailable.”
ICE has not verified Mergensana’s death. The agency publicizes in-custody deaths within 24 hours. Mergensana would be the agency’s second in-custody death for fiscal year 2019, which began October 1.
Villalpando told Rewire.News that the last time she spoke to Mergensana was November 3 during one of the organization’s “wellness check-ins.” The Russian immigrant wanted to continue fighting to remain in the United States, but was struggling to find legal representation for his case.
“What we do know is that ICE would not have said anything about Amar’s medical emergency on Thursday without public pressure,” Villalpando said in a statement. “If Amar is alive, as ICE claims, he should be immediately released. 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.”