*Practice limited to federal immigration law. Licensed in NY, MA, but not in CA.

Preventable Tragedy: 57-Year-Old Man Dies of COVID-19 in ICE Custody in Southern California

According to a report from The Washington Post, a 57-year-old man has died of COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California. Originally from El Salvador, Carlos Escobar-Mejia was reportedly taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in January. Prior to that, he had been living in the United States for around 40 years

The tragic death at Otay Mesa is the first reported coronavirus-related death in an immigration detention center in the United States. Tragically, it may not be the last—unless additional action is taken to protect the rights of vulnerable people. Immigrant rights groups are warning that many other older and immunocompromised immigrants are still being held in unsafe conditions. 

Eligible for Release—But Denied Immigration Bond in April

The details about this case are incredibly heartbreaking. Carlos Escobar-Mejia had lived in the United States for four decades. Unfortunately, he had been unable to obtain permanent residency due to an issue that occurred back in the 1990s. On April 15th, he sought release through immigration bond. However, KPBS San Diego Public Radio reports that he was denied an opportunity to leave confinement. 

As Mr. Escobar-Mejia had previously been diagnosed with hypertension, he fell into a group that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers to be at high risk of suffering severe complications from coronavirus exposure. Yet, the government still refused to release him until it was already too late. This despite the fact that COVID-19 cases were already confirmed in staff members and detainees within the Otay Mesa Detention Center. As a representative for the ACLU toddler reporters, he “should not have been subject to death in immigration detention.”

A Slow Motion Disaster: Advocates Were Already Sounding the Alarm

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began accelerating in the United States in mid-March, immigration rights groups have been sounding the alarm about the poor conditions in ICE facilities. Recently, a federal judge agreed, finding that lack of social distancing is a serious problem at two immigration detention centers in Northern California. 

The situation at the Otay Mesa facility—while, sadly, not unique—has been the worst of any immigration detention center in the entire country. Last month, the Otay Mesa facility was confirmed to have the largest outbreak—with as many as 20 percent of all detainees in the facility being exposed to COVID-19. Yet, officials have still failed to take enough action. Otay Mesa staff even turned away a donation of more than 1,000 masks organized by a California State Assemblywoman. 

We Fight for Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, CaliforniaAt Goldstein Immigration Lawyers, we are committed to solving problems in immigration law. Our mission is to help you handle immediate issues and help you achieve your long term goals. To arrange up a confidential initial consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer, please contact us today. We represent clients throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area, including in Ventura County, Orange County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County.

Josh Goldstein
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