Man In ICE Custody Dies In Apparent Suicide After Losing Appeal For Release

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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A South Korean man in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody has died from what authorities are describing as an apparent suicide.

Choung Woong Ahn, a 74-year-old Korean national previously convicted of attempted murder, was pronounced dead Sunday night by medical professionals, according to a press release from ICE. Ahn, who was being detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center, was found unresponsive in his cell that night, and attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, the agency said.

The death “appears to be self-inflicted strangulation,” but authorities are investigating the matter further, the ICE press release stated.

The incident, which marks the latest detainee death within the agency, came after Ahn attempted to use the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to be released from custody.


A sheriff’s deputy (R) talks to an immigration detainee (L) in a high security housing unit at the Theo Lacy Facility, a county jail which also houses immigration detainees arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), March 14, 2017 in Orange, California. (ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Ahn was lawfully admitted into the United States as a legal immigrant in 1988. However, he broke the terms of his admission after he was convicted of attempted murder with a firearms penalty enhancement in June 2013, and sentenced by the Alameda County Superior Court to 10 years in prison.

The South Korean national entered ICE custody in February following his release from the Solano State Prison in Vacaville, California.

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many immigrant-rights advocates to demand detainees be released from ICE custody, citing the dangers of viral outbreaks within prison facilities. These demands have proven successful on numerous occasions, and have even resulted in orders to release convicted felons.

Ahn and other detainees in the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in April requested to be released on grounds that they are susceptible to COVID-19. Ahn, in particular, cited his age, diabetes, lung cancer and coronary artery disease, according to The Washington Times.

However, the U.S. District Court of Northern California denied the South Korean national’s request for bail on May 13.

Ahn was undergoing deportation proceedings at the time of his death.

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

According to the agency’s latest data, there are just fewer than 28,000 individuals in ICE custody, with nearly half of them having been previously apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). There are 1,145 confirmed cases of coronavirus within the agency’s detainee population. (RELATED: Most Americans Support Trump’s Immigration Pause Amid Coronavirus Crisis, Poll Finds)

Despite the high incarceration rate and increasing cases of coronavirus, deaths continue to be an abnormality within the agency’s detainee population. Ahn’s death marked the seventh in ICE custody this calendar year.

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