Things That Matter

A Third Man Has Died In ICE Custody After Testing Positive For Covid-19

As ICE continues to detain thousand of migrants across the country in crowded detention centers, the pandemic continues to claim lives. This time a 51-year-old Mexican man has died after testing positive for Covid-19 while in ICE custody.

For months, migrant and refugee rights organizations have implored the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – the agency that oversees ICE – to release all people in their custody to avoid mass contagion. The fear has been that keeping thousands of people in close quarters and without proper access to medical care could result in the deaths of countless people. But the agency refuses to listen, and it’s costing lives.

ICE announced that a third man has died in their custody after battling a Coronavirus infection.

A 51-year-old Mexican man, Onoval Perez-Montufa, has been announced as the latest victim to die of Coronavirus infection while in ICE custody. Perez-Montufa has been in ICE custody since June 15, when he was released from a Massachusetts prison and was being held by ICE at the Glades County Detention Center in Florida before he died on Sunday.

Perez-Montufa had been hospitalized for nearly two weeks as he attempted to fight off his Covid-19 infection. He entered the Palm Beach Country hospital on July 1 after reporting shortness of breath while in ICE detention.

He tested positive for COVID-19 on July 2, ICE said. The cause of death on Sunday was not immediately known.

Reports of the man’s death drew swift condemnation from immigrant rights organizations, who’ve been pushing for weeks for ICE to release more detainees from its facilities and arguing coronavirus poses a deadly threat to immigrants behind bars.

The death comes more than a month after a Guatemalan man who tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody.

Unfortunately, Perez-Montufa is not the only victim of ICE’s continued detention policy amid a global health pandemic. His death comes a month after a 34-year-old Guatemalan man who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody at a Georgia hospital in May.

That man, 34-year-old Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, had been in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center since early March, the agency confirmed in a statement.

Baten-Oxlaj was the second confirmed victim of the virus while in ICE custody after a man from El Salvador died in early May.

Migrants in detention centers are at increased risk for the disease.

According to ICE’s own data, there are currently 883 cases of Covid-19 among the nearly 23,000 detainees in ICE custody. That’s an overall infection rate of nearly 4% – far above the national average.

And since the very start of the Coronavirus pandemic, medical experts and immigrant rights activists have warned about the growing risk detainees would face. They’ve long pointed out the inherent difficulties within detention centers – such as a lack of necessary space to accommodate proper social distancing guidelines – that put people in danger. Not to mention that the agency has long faced accusations of providing inadequate medical care to detainees. Advocates have used these arguments as a way to push for more releases.

At the beginning of the pandemic, ICE did asses their detainee population and decided to relocate vulnerable detainees, including those who are over 60 or are pregnant. Meanwhile, several federal judges have ordered ICE to release more than 500 detainees, citing the preexisting medical conditions of the immigrants released and the potential for life-threatening complications from COVID-19.

Despite the ongoing deaths and sky high infection rates, ICE said in a press release: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident.”

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