The governing body of New Jersey’s Hudson County launched an investigation Wednesday into the death of a Brentwood resident after he was held more than two months in their jail, pending his possible deportation under custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A resolution by the county’s Board of Freeholders, the equivalent of a county legislature, established “an ad hoc committee of the board” alongside medical and professional staff to probe the medical care given the immigration detainee, a county spokesman said.
The man, identified by his lawyer as Rolando Meza Espinoza, of Brentwood, died of internal bleeding and hemorrhagic shock on June 10 at Jersey City Medical Center, two days after he was taken there, said Manuel Portela, a Manhattan-based attorney who was seeking his release and is representing Meza’s family.
Meza, who according to his partner suffered from diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and anemia, had been taken there from the Hudson County Correctional Facility, used by ICE’s New York field office to hold immigration detainees in Kearny, New Jersey. He had been picked up by immigration agents on March 28 from a Long Island construction site where he worked.
Meza also was known in ICE’s records as Carlos Mejia-Bonilla, 44, though his lawyer said that was a name he had used when he first entered the United States. Portela contends his client was mistakenly arrested by ICE because he didn’t resemble the Rolando Meza they were looking for and didn’t match his biographical data and immigration history, even though his client was living in the United States illegally after losing his temporary protected status because of two DWI arrests and convictions.
“Our position is that we are still investigating and we are looking into a claim against the government for unjustified arrest . . . and also for negligent medical treatment,” Portela said.
ICE said in a June 12 release that Mejia-Bonilla, as the agency identified him then, had been first arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol on Aug. 21, 1993, having entered the country illegally. He was later convicted of driving while intoxicated and aggravated driving while intoxicated in 2009 and 2014 in Suffolk County, ICE said. While ICE said he was a Salvadoran immigrant, his lawyer has said he is a national of Honduras.
ICE said in a June 22 statement that “Mejia-Bonilla died of complications of a previous medical condition.” The agency also acknowledged Meza as the man’s other name, but it didn’t comment on the Hudson County decision.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said he supports an independent review of the case. “Every individual who enters our custody is entitled to all proper medical care,” DeGise said. “We intend to find out whether that was provided — as it should have been — in this case.”
A spokeswoman for CFG Health Systems LLC, a New Jersey company that provides health services under contract at that jail, said it could not comment on the incident “since there’s an ongoing investigation,” and defended its practices.
“CFG is committed to providing comprehensive health care services to the population which it serves and we are working with local advocacy groups and organizations concurrently to ensure all detainees are receiving quality medical care,” said Jeanine P. Miles, the company’s director of business development and marketing.
The man’s death — the 10th in ICE custody in the 2017 fiscal year that started Oct. 1 — has galvanized immigrant advocates, who protested in Kearny and Brentwood, calling for stricter oversight of detention centers.
Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of the Latino advocacy group Make The Road New York, which has an office in Brentwood, said the case points to larger issues amid a push for strict enforcement of immigration laws.
“Rolando Meza’s death is an absolute tragedy, and we will continue to stand with his family for justice,” Valdés said. “This systematic pattern of abuse and neglect at the hands of a rogue government agency, often in conjunction with unaccountable private detention centers, is a national emergency” that calls for further investigation, he added, as the agency “is keeping immigrants in cages and separating our families.”
In Brentwood, Meza is survived by a daughter, 8, and two stepdaughters. His lawyer said he also had three other adult children from a previous relationship.
“He was a good person, a good father, a good husband,” Darleny Rivera, 29, his partner, said in Spanish. “He wasn’t doing anything wrong” when he was arrested. “The only thing he was doing was working so we could get ahead.”