Sunday, December 14, 2008

Salvadoran woman dies in Kentucky jail awaiting deportation

A funeral was held on December 10 for Ana Romero, a Salvadoran woman being held in a county jail in Kentucky prior to being deported back to El Salvador. Her apparent suicide after being held for months in Kentucky jails has raised questions for some about the detention of illegal immigrants in local jails prior to deportation by ICE.

An article on describes the background of Ana Romero's death:

Romero, who came to Kentucky from El Salvador three years ago, was arrested Jan. 14 by state police after giving federal immigration officials a false identification card. Aguilar said officers were looking for another suspect when they knocked on Romero's door.

As a result of the January charges, Romero spent five months in the Shelby County jail and was transferred to the Franklin County Regional Jail in May, where she stayed the last four months. Romero entered a guilty plea Aug. 7. She was required to pay a $100 fine, but she did not receive additional jail time.

Family members say that shortly before she died, Romero was placed in isolation for refusing to eat. Aguilar said she had telephoned several times from the jail saying her stomach hurt and she was vomiting. She said the food smelled bad and that something was wrong with it.

Suicide, the family said, did not appear to be on her mind. Romero did not appear to be depressed and her religious convictions would have prevented her from committing suicide, her family says.

In the days before her death, Romero was not upset about the deportation; she was looking forward to going home to see her elderly mother and two sons. Romero helped support her family by working in Shelbyville cleaning houses, Aguilar said.

Family and activists created a website at to demand answers and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her death. However, Kentucky state authorities released the results of their investigation which found nothing improper in the actions of Romero's jailers prior to her death. Regardless, activists blame US economic and migration policies for her death.

Another article this week from the San Diego Reader described the death of a Salvadoran who died of cancer following a failure to provide him with appropriate medical care when he has being held in the San Diego Correction Facility for immigration law violations. In February 2007, the New York Times documented another jailhouse suicide of a Salvadoran being held in the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey. In May 2008, the New York Times ran a feature article questioning the circumstances surrounding the deathos of 66 immigrants in custody between 2004 and 2007.

These tragic deaths of Salvadoran migrants and others in custody pending their deportations are another example of the fact that the US immigration system is seriously broken.

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