ICE confirms death of detained immigrant with COVID-19

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed Thursday the first death of a migrant detained in a facility from the coronavirus. 

Carlos Escobar-Mejia, 57, was pronounced dead on Wednesday at a hospital in California where he had been hospitalized since April 24 after exhibiting coronavirus-related symptoms and testing positive for the disease the same day, ICE said. 

Escobar-Mejia entered ICE custody on Jan. 10 and was transferred to the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. The Otay Mesa Detention Center has the biggest outbreak of the virus of any ICE detention center, according to data released by the agency. 

A medical screening on Jan. 11 indicated that Escobar-Mejia had hypertension, and he self-identified as having diabetes, according to ICE. People with diabetes might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Wednesday that an unnamed migrant had died at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. The ACLU urged ICE to release more people from detention to prevent further fatalities. 

“This is a terrible tragedy, and it was entirely predictable and preventable. For months, public health experts and corrections officials have warned that detention centers would be Petri dishes for the spread of COVID-19 — and a death trap for thousands of people in civil detention,” ACLU Deputy Director of Immigration Policy Andrea Flores said in a statement

Other immigrant advocates issued similar calls after the reported death. 

“Had ICE and CoreCivic acted with at least a modicum of competence and organization, this death would not have taken place. Now thousands of other lives remain in jeopardy,” Lisa Knox, of Centro Legal de la Raza, an organization that represents detained immigrants throughout California, said in a statement.

“ICE and CoreCivic’s refusal to take any steps to protect the precious lives in their custody before being legally required or publicly shamed into doing so is outrageous.”

Health services at Otay Mesa Detention Center began administering COVID-19 tests on April 1, and of the 181 migrants tested there, 140 have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit against ICE and CoreCivic, the private contractor that runs the detention center, last month demanding that the number of people detained be dramatically reduced for safety amid the pandemic. 

A judge last week ordered ICE and CoreCivic to begin releasing medically vulnerable people in custody at the center. 

So far in May, ICE said 53 people have been released from ICE custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. 

Tags CoreCivic Coronavirus Death Immigration and Customs Enforcement U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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