British man dies in US immigration detention in Florida

Oliver Laughland in New Orleans
Photograph: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

A British man has died while being held in US immigration detention in Florida, the Guardian has confirmed.

The death was first reported by BuzzFeed News, which said the man was 39 years old and that the cause was initially attributed to asphyxiation due to hanging. The incident was reported to have occurred on Saturday last week.

“Our staff are in contact with the US authorities following the death of a British man in Florida,” said a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in London.

Foreign Office officials are understood to have been in contact with the deceased man’s wife, as US officials investigate the circumstances of the death.

Related: Seven months detained: seven-year-old is longest-held child migrant in US

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Guardian.

In a statement to BuzzFeed, the agency identified the deceased man as Ben James Owen and clarified he had died at the Baker county detention center in Macclenny, Florida. Officials said Owen had entered the US on a temporary visa in July and had been arrested on suspicion of felony aggravated stalking, felony false imprisonment, domestic assault, and violating the conditions of his pre-trial release. The agency said the case remained under investigation.

The incident marks the fifth death at a detention centre in the 2020 fiscal year, which begins in October 2019. There were eight deaths in Ice detention in the 2019 fiscal year.

The immigration detention population in the United States has soared under the Trump administration. Last year Ice detained 510,854 people, compared with 396,448 in 2018. The administration has also increased its use of detention facilities, mostly run by private security companies, with a new concentration of detention centres opening in the deep south.

Medical provision and mental health care at detention facilities has come under increased criticism under the Trump administration after a spate of high profile deaths since 2017.

At the end of last year House Democrats on the oversight and reform committee launched an inquiry to investigate a “troubling pattern of abuse and poor treatment” of migrants in custody.