COVID-19 kills detainee from California migrant detention center

Border Report

Otay Mesa Detention Center houses mostly migrants awaiting trial. The American Civil Liberties Union is demanding the release of detainees over 45 and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from CoreCivic, the private company the runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Border Report) — An immigration detainee has died after catching the coronavirus while being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in South San Diego.

Officials with the County of San Diego confirmed the death.

Border Report, through a source, has learned the victim is 57-year old Carlos Ernesto Escobar from El Salvador, who was declared dead at 2:15 a.m. Wednesday.

CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, said Escobar had been transported to a nearby hospital on April 24 due to symptoms of COVID-19. He arrived at the detention center in January.

Last month, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic demanding they dramatically reduce the number of people detained at Otay Mesa as a way to protect their health and safety in light of the pandemic.

ACLU SUES TO RELEASE DETAINEES AT OTAY MESA DETENTION CENTER

Last week, a judge ordered ICE and CoreCivic to start releasing medically vulnerable people in custody at Otay Mesa. By Monday, ICE had identified over 130 such people, but had only released two. 

“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,” said Andrea Flores, ACLU’s Deputy Director for Immigration Policy

Flores added: “Unless ICE acts quickly to release far more people from detention, they will keep getting sick and many more will die. Since the Trump administration began, 40 people have died in ICE detention. The administration’s obsession with incarcerating people was dangerous before COVID-19, and now it is a death sentence.”

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According to the ACLU, the Otay Mesa facility has the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any ICE detention center in the country with almost 200 positive cases. This figure is disputed by CoreCivic, which reports 119, considerably lower. According to figures updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the ICE website, 132 detainees and 10 ICE employees have tested positive for the coronavirus at Otay Mesa.

Community activists like Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee have supported the ACLU’s lawsuit and have also called for the release of all detainees as a way to prevent deaths at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

“We are saddened and outraged that a person detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County has died with complications related to COVID-19.  For months, advocates have been raising concerns that the detention facility would exacerbate deadly conditions for those it detains,” said Rios.

In a statement to Border Report, CoreCivic said it had been in close contact with ICE about the Escobar’s health and immediately notified them of the his passing.

“We are deeply saddened to report that a detainee who had been hospitalized from our Otay Mesa Detention Center has passed away Wednesday morning,” said CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin, adding that the exact cause of death is pending an official determination. “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to this individual’s loved ones.”

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