PHOENIX - Human- rights groups on Wednesday demanded more transparency and independent oversight of the nation's immigration detention centers after two Guatemalans committed suicide at an Arizona facility where half of all detainee deaths occurred this year.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said last week that the two detainees had killed themselves at the Eloy Detention Center, about 60 miles north of Tucson.
The suicides were three days apart and marked the third death of an Eloy detainee since December. In all, six detainees nationwide have died in custody this year.
"Suicides are a red flag," said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, in a telephone interview Wednesday. "They usually signify a much larger problem. Sometimes it's because of ineffective mental- health treatment, but often times it's caused by poor staffing issues."
Another detainee found 24-year-old Elsa Guada-lupe-Gonzales hanging in her cell April 28. She had been arrested for allegedly being in the country illegally and had been detained since March 20 as she awaited immigration hearings.
Jorge Garcia-Mejia, 40, was found hanging April 30 in an apparent suicide. Garcia-Mejia was found unresponsive in his cell by guards conducting afternoon security checks. He had been detained at the facility since March 23 after an arrest for assault.
The Eloy Detention Center is a 1,596-bed, minimum-security facility run by Corrections Corp. of America. A spokesman for the facility referred all questions Wednesday to the company's national spokes-man, who did not return a request for comment.
Of 131 detainees who died in federal custody between October 2003 and December 2012, 10 had been detained at the Eloy facility. They died from strokes, cardiac arrest and asphyxia.