We know it was bound to happen, but it still hurts just the same. Carlos Escobar-Mejia, an immigrant detainee from El Salvador held in ICE custody, has died due to the coronavirus. He leaves behind his family in California. He was 57-years-old.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which was roughly mid-March (at least in the United States), immigration advocates urged the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release detainees because there was no doubt that the virus would spread inside cells like a wildfire. Some detainees, especially older people and those with underlying health concerns, were released. ICE has so far released hundreds of detainees from detention centers around the country that were forced by a federal judge. But of course, others weren’t so lucky. Escobar-Mejia was among those unfortunate people that remained detained and got sick.
Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old from El Salvador, is the first to die from COVID-19 in ICE custody.
— Keegan Hamilton (@keegan_hamilton) May 7, 2020
Escobar-Mejia was detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in January. The San Diego Tribune reports that the Otay detention center has become a hotspot for the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, “202 people in custody there had tested positive — 136 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees and 66 U.S. Marshals Service inmates.” Overall the numbers are much higher. ICE reports that across the country, 753 detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus, while 42 workers have tested positive as well.
ICE reports Escobar-Mejia tested positive for COVID-19 on April 24 and died a week later on May 6. Escobar-Mejia had built a life in the U.S. since coming to the country in 1980.
“He adored his mom when she was alive and his sister. He lived for them,” his lawyer Joan Del Valle told the San Diego Tribune. “That was the center of his life.”
It has been confirmed now that one person has died from COVID-19 in ICE custody.
Rest in power, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia. https://t.co/1ckAaAS4XP
— United We Dream (@UNITEDWEDREAM) May 7, 2020
While Escobar-Mejia is the first detainee to die from this virus inside a detention center, we know he won’t be the last.
“We knew it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when,” Katie Shepherd, a lawyer at the American Immigration Council, told KOB4 News. “But I am afraid about how many more deaths will happen.“
In a press release statement, ICE said, “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.”