ACLU Statement on First Known Death from COVID-19 in ICE Detention

May 6, 2020 5:45 pm

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SAN DIEGO — The first confirmed death in an ICE detention center from COVID-19 was reported today at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. Otay Mesa is run by the private, for-profit contractor, CoreCivic.

With nearly 200 confirmed cases, Otay Mesa has the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any ICE detention center in the country. Migrants detained there have referred to it as a “death trap,” due to the lack of precautionary measures being taken by staff.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a class action lawsuit against ICE and CoreCivic demanding they dramatically reduce the number of people detained at Otay Mesa to protect their health and safety in light of this pandemic. Last week, a judge ordered ICE and CoreCivic to begin releasing medically vulnerable people in custody at Otay Mesa immediately. By Monday, ICE had identified over 130 such people, but had only released two.

Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU, issued the following statement:

“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. 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.”

Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, issued the following statement:

“We extend our sincere condolences to the family of the person who passed away in ICE custody at Otay Mesa this morning. We filed a lawsuit demanding the immediate release of medically vulnerable people from Otay Mesa weeks ago, urging that release under these circumstances is a matter of life and death. Today one of those people has died because ICE refused to release him when he still had a chance to survive this deadly virus. We continue to call on ICE and CoreCivic to act urgently and with humanity. This tragic news is even more evidence that failing to act will result in cruel and needless death.”

Last week, the ACLU issued a report, “Justice-Free Zones: U.S. Immigration Detention Under the Trump Administration.” The report chronicled the growth of immigrant detention under the Trump administration — much of which has benefited providers like CoreCivic — as well as deteriorating conditions in detention, and the heightened legal hurdles that prevent people from getting out. It found that, even before COVID-19, 39 people in ICE detention had died under the Trump administration, in part due to inadequate medical and medical health care.

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