Carlos Bonilla and his daughter Maeli Rivera, 8. Photo: handout, courtesy of Hudson Civic Action

Joanna Bonilla and her siblings lost their father in 2017 to internal bleeding from liver disease that went untreated. They didn’t get to say goodbye to their immigrant father who passed away in a hospital alone while he was in U.S. custody. 

Joanna can’t get her dad back, but one thing she knows she can do is seek justice and bring awareness to a problem that can create profound pain for other families. That’s why she’s now suing CGB Health Systems LLC, the medical provider at Hudson County Jail at the time of her father’s death. 

Joanna is heartbroken that things have worsened in immigrant detention facilities since her father Carlos Bonilla’s death. Instead of there being improvements in the treatment of detainees, there are multiple dire reports of inhumane conditions, overcrowded cells, lack of medical assistance when needed and many other deaths.

Carlos’ case echoes the lives of migrants in search of a better life who have died while in U.S. custody. The Salvadoran father of four lived in the U.S. for 25 years, and owned a construction company with his brother. 

He was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April 2017 while working at a construction site. 

Rolando Meza Espinoza with his family. Meza was detained by ICE agents and died while in federal custody. Photo: Handout

The situation for Carlos was set to end badly. A combination of a broken immigration systems, inept staff and an increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric have added to the recent spike in deaths of migrants in detention. 

These deaths include five children and two adult trans immigrants, many who had medical issues that went undiagnosed or untreated. 

The lawsuit that Joanna is presenting is not going to bring her father back from death, she knows, but in some way she hopes to bring awareness to the dismal conditions many migrants are currently facing. And she hopes to honor the memory of her father by stopping others from suffering the same fate.

Christine Bolaños, Josefina Casati contributed to this report.