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Another Man Has Died Of Covid-19 In ICE Custody And The Agency Still Lacks Any Plan To Prevent More Deaths

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.

ICE has refused to acknowledge the risk and instead has been shifting migrants around in a strategy of ‘mitigating’ risk. The results have been mixed as reports of low testing capacity and lack of medical care have called the organization’s strategy into question.

News broke on May 6 of the first migrant in ICE custody to die of Covid-19, now it’s been confirmed that a second detainee has died of the virus. And now many are wondering who’s next and how bad will it get?

A Guatemalan man has become the second confirmed death related to Covid-19 while in ICE custody.

Credit: Core Civic

Santiago Baten-Oxlag, a 34-year-old from Guatemala, died of complications from Covid-19 on Sunday. He becomes the second confirmed victim of the virus while in ICE custody after a man from El Salvador died in early May.

Baten-Oxlag has been transferred to a hospital from ICE’s Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He’d been in the hospital since April 17, according to CBS News, while waiting to voluntarily return to Guatemala.

The 34-year-old had been in ICE custody since March 2, when he was arrested at a probation office in Marietta, Georgia, following a conviction for driving under the influence, ICE told Buzzfeed News. He agreed to voluntarily leave the US on March 26.

A 57-year-old man was the first confirmed Covid-19 related death in ICE custody.

Credit: Sarah Voisin / Getty

A 57-year-old man, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, from El Salvador who had tested positive for COVID-19 died in ICE custody in Southern California on Wednesday.

Mejia had been in ICE custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near the California border with Mexico since January and tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on April 24.

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 heartbreaking tragedy at Otay Mesa could have been prevented had US immigration officials heeded the recommendations of medical experts and acted in time,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical adviser for Physicians for Human Rights, in a statement.

For months, several major organizations have called for an orderly, coordinated release of detainees in ICE and CBP detention facilities.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty

Court challenges in multiple states seek to compel ICE to release detainees in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The Otay Mesa center southeast of San Diego is the subject of such a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The San Diego facility has 132 COVID-19 cases, the most patients by far of the 41 detention centers where the virus has been reported. There have also been 10 employees at the facility who have contracted the virus, according to ICE.

The facility has also been the target of protesters who, on April 11, drove up in vehicles and honked to bring attention to the health conditions.

“Despite unwavering calls to prevent this, Trump’s immigration system took another life,” Paola Luisi, co-director of the immigrant advocacy group Families Belong Together said in a statement Wednesday.

“You cannot cage a virus, and it is impossible to safely physically distance behind bars,” she said. “We fear this tragic death will be the first.”

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