Podcast | What the life and death of an asylum seeker says about ICE

Reporter Lilly Fowler discusses what years of reporting on Mergensana Amar tell us about U.S. immigration policy.

Two signs

Signs for a vigil in honor of Mergensana Amar at Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Nov. 26, 2018. Amar, whose name had been unintentionally transposed by some mourners, died while in ICE custody. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

The first time that Amar made news in the United States he was in the middle of a hunger strike, a protest against his failed bid for asylum and his imminent deportation after being held at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma. The next time he made the news, he was fighting for his life after a suicide attempt. At least that was the story pieced together from the information provided by officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As newly discovered documents now make clear, Amar was officially dead days before authorities acknowledged as much, counter to agency policy that ensures quick notice in matters of death. He was also kept shackled to his bed against the wishes of hospital staff, even after hopes for recovery had been abandoned.

This week on Crosscut Talks, reporter Lilly Fowler recounts the story of the Russian national, who sought asylum in the United States. She discusses how these recent findings illuminate the confusing days following news of the suicide attempt and considers what his story tells us about the state of immigration in the United States and the agency charged with caring for those in the system, in life and death.


The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 for English, or for Spanish 1-888-628-9454, or for using TTY equipment to assist with speech or hearing impairments, 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).

The Crisis Clinic of King County operates a confidential, free, 24-hour crisis line for anyone in crisis in the area: 1-866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747) or 206-461-3222.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day: 1-800-273-8255.

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