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Fort Wayne man’s immigration arrest ends in lonely death

October 9, 2017 | Fort Wayne News Sentenial | Link to Article

It reportedly all started with a police traffic stop in September 2015. Less than a year later, Juan Luis Boch-Paniagua of Fort Wayne was dead, separated from family and never having left Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention.

Boch’s story puts a personal face on issues the new Fort Wayne Solidarity Network hopes to address, beginning Sunday. Volunteers plan to make sure other immigrants don’t have to go it alone through the law enforcement interactions and detention.

Boch, his sister and a brother all came to the Fort Wayne area from Guatemala without going through the legal immigration process, his sister, Rodolfina Boch, 31, of Fort Wayne, said. She speaks mostly Spanish, so The News-Sentinel spoke with her with translation help from Jaime Palma of Fort Wayne, a Guatemala native and U.S. citizen.

She arrived in Fort Wayne about 12 years ago, and her brothers followed later, said Rodolfina, who is seeking a visa as a victim of domestic violence. They came to earn money to send back to their family in Guatemala.

More recently, people from Guatemala and some other Central American countries have been entering the United States to escape the danger and violence of drug cartels and criminal gangs, Palma said.

Both Juan and Rodolfina had been picked up once previously by immigration authorities and sent back to Guatemala, but they returned to Fort Wayne, she said.

Juan, who was age 39 when he died, was a hard worker who also used to help and protect her, Rodolfina said. Along with working in a local factory, he also did cleaning at a local car dealership and worked part time at a local restaurant.

After being arrested by local police in late September 2015, Juan told her he was driving a vehicle loaned to him by the car dealership owner. He turned on a turn signal to make a turn, but then changed his mind.

Allen Superior Court records show he was charged Sept. 28, 2015, with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, operating a motor vehicle without a license and unsafe lane movement without a signal. He pleaded guilty Oct. 13, 2015, and was sentenced late that month to 40 days in jail. The unsafe lane movement charge was dismissed.

Chicago ICE officers arrested him Oct. 29 and reinstated the order to remove him from the United States, it said in an ICE news release about his death.

After serving his local sentence, Rodolfina said Juan was transferred to ICE detention facilities in Indianapolis, Brazil in west-central Indiana and then in Wisconsin.

He applied for political asylum while at the Wisconsin facility, she said, and he spent several months there while that application worked its way through the process. Officials eventually denied his application, reportedly saying he didn’t have enough evidence to support his request, he told her.

While he was there, a representative from the Guatemalan consulate came and spoke with him, and Juan was healthy, she was told.

In his next call, he reportedly told her he was being sent to an ICE detention center in Louisiana, from which he would be sent within two days to Guatemala.

She heard nothing for two weeks, and then he called and said he was sick, she said. He told her medical staff said he may have tuberculosis, and they would have to do surgery on his lungs.

After the surgery, he called to tell her they said they would have to perform a second surgery, she said. Two weeks passed, she said, and then he called and asked her to try to get him out of there.

The ICE news release said Juan was transferred May 11, 2016, from the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, La., to Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria, La., because he was suffering from low blood pressure. The hospital admitted him as possibly suffering from sepsis, which is a potentially life-threatening complication that can occur when the body attempts to fight an infection, the Mayo Clinic said at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sepsis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351214.

Rodolfina said she next received a call from an official who said her brother was in a coma. She was asked if they could disconnect him from life-support systems, but she refused.

She finally was able to speak with a woman doctor who gave her accurate information, she said. After three days, her brother began moving a finger and then a leg. He seemed to be recovering, she said.

After a week, a hospital official said they planned to move him out of critical care, she said. Juan also called and told her he wanted to go back to Guatemala. That was the last time she spoke with him.

The ICE news release said Juan was transferred May 17 from Rapides Regional Medical Center to Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, La., a New Orleans suburb. At Ochsner, he reportedly was diagnosed with liver failure and placed in intensive care. He was pronounced dead at 6:02 p.m. June 1, 2016.

Rodolfina said the doctor who had given her accurate patient information about her brother reportedly told her and Palma, who was helping her with communications with officials in Louisiana, that her brother had been misdiagnosed. He had been given medicine for TB, the doctor reportedly said, but he actually had a liver problem.

The months since her brother’s death have been difficult, she said.

“Sometimes, I talk to people, and they think my brother still is alive,” she said.

She feels depressed and guilty about whether she did enough to try to help him.

And she wonders, “What did they do to him?”