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Mexican man dies in ICE custody in Arizona

A 36-year-old Mexican man collapsed and died Friday morning while in custody at a facility managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Florence, Ariz., officials said.

Benjamin Gonzalez-Soto was arrested by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on June 30 for possession of drug paraphernalia and obstructing a highway or public thoroughfare, said Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman. Records showed he been deported from the U.S. twice, most recently in 2012, she said.

Gonzalez-Soto was handed over to ICE, and spent a week in custody at the Central Arizona Florence Correctional Complex—a 434,000-square foot facility managed by CoreCivic, private prison corporation. CAFCC holds detainees for ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and the U.S. Air Force, along with the cities of Mesa and Coolidge.

While in custody, Gonzalez-Soto collapsed. Medical personnel at CAFCC began "life-saving efforts and contacted local paramedics," Pitts O'Keefe said. Emergency medical personnel arrived and took over efforts to save the man's life, however, he was pronounced dead at 1:41 a.m.

It's not clear why Gonzalez-Soto died. An autopsy is pending, said Pitts O'Keefe.

Everyone in ICE custody receives a "medical, dental, and mental health intake screening" within 12 hours of their arrival, and a "full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility," she added.

The last time someone died in ICE custody in Arizona was May 2019 when 21-year-old Simratpal Singh was "found unresponsive" at the La Paz County Jail in Parker, Ariz.—the fifth detainee to die in the agency's custody in 2019.

In 2020, five people died in ICE custody, including four at nearby hospitals.

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This year, Gonzalez-Soto has been the only person to die in ICE custody, according to data from the agency.

During the outbreak COVID-19 in March 2020, ICE officials released 900 people considered a "higher risk for severe illness for COVID-19, and the agency "reduced intake" of new detainees dropping the number of people in custody by about 7,000. Data from the agency shows around 23,753 people are in ICE custody nationwide.

Pitts O'Keefe added that "consistent" with ICE protocols, officials with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, and ICE own Office of Professional Responsibility will review Gonzalez-Soto's death, and the Mexican consulate was informed.

"ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases," she said. "Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population."

ICE's own Health Service Corps "ensures" people receive necessary medical care services under the agency's own guidelines, she said, adding that "comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment individuals arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay." 

The agency spends more than $315 million on healthcare for people in ICE custody, she said.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A protester outside of an immigration detention facility in Eloy in April 2020.