SAN DIEGO (AP) – A 57-year-old man who was detained by the United States immigration authorities died Wednesday of complications related to COVID-19, US authorities reported, making him the first reported death from the virus among the nearly 30,000 people in immigration custody.
The person was being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego and has been hospitalized since late April, said Craig Sturak, a spokesman for the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) did not confirm or deny the death. CoreCivic Inc., the private company that runs the detention center, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Otay Mesa has been a focus of COVID-19 infection, and almost one in five migrants have been diagnosed with the disease nationwide. As of Wednesday, 132 of the 705 cases that ICE has reported are located within the San Diego facility. In addition, 10 of the 39 detention employees who have tested positive work in Otay Mesa.
Two custodians at a Monroe, Louisiana immigration detention center died late last month of the coronavirus: Carl Lenard, 62, and Stanton Johnson, 51. As of Wednesday, no detainee’s death had been reported. .
Justice Department attorney Samuel Bettwy said Monday in a hearing that the San Diego detainee was intubated in a hospital with a poor prognosis. Although his death was not surprising, activist groups that have pressured ICE to release the detainees on bail were quick to lash out at the agency.
“This tragic news is new evidence that failure to take action will result in cruel and unnecessary death,” said Monika Langarica, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego and Imperial counties, who won a lawsuit to force the release of dozens of elderly and medically vulnerable people who were detained in Otay Mesa.
In most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which disappear in two to three weeks. In other cases, especially in the elderly and patients with underlying conditions, it can cause more severe conditions, including pneumonia, or death.
The frequency of diagnostic tests could be related to the high infection rate in Otay Mesa. During Monday’s hearing, authorities noted that 119 of 171 (70%) of the detainees who were analyzed in Otay Mesa tested positive. ICE limited itself to saying that it has carried out tests on 705 detainees across the country, without breaking down the number of analyzes by detention center.
The first positive in Otay Mesa was a guard, whose diagnosis was released on March 31. The facility is designed to house 1,970 detainees from ICE and the Federal Marshals Service, but the number has been reduced in recent weeks.
As of April 26, it had 662 immigrants detained and 325 inmates of the Federal Marshals Service. Dozens of people will be released this week on court orders.
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