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Nearly Half Of ICE Detainee Deaths In 2020 Were Due To COVID-19

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Kaylee Greenlee Immigration and Extremism Reporter
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Nearly half of all detainees who died while in custody during 2020 died of COVID-19 related causes, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Of the 19 people who died while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, eight died of COVID-19, seven of whom were in the hospital at their time of death, according to ICE. From February 2020 to Jan. 4, 2021, 80,200 detainees tested positive for COVID-19 while in ICE custody.

“Despite the fact that many individuals come into ICE custody with existing medical conditions or have never before received appropriate medical, deaths in ICE custody are still exceedingly rare, occurring at less than 1% of the rate of fatalities in federal and state custody nationwide,” ICE Spokesperson Danielle Bennett told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Carlos Escobar-Mejia, 57, was the first reported detainee death last year in April 2020, according to ICE. He was held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center which is a private facility that contracts with ICE near San Diego, California, according to the Border Report.

Escobar-Mejia’s family is suing the facility over “negligence, deliberate indifference to serious health and safety needs and wrongful death,” according to the Border Report. The family said the facility “[exposed] him to a deadly disease” and “deprived him of protective equipment, proper social distance, appropriate treatment, and all with the knowledge and participation of ICE and its officials.”

Three of the detainees who died of COVID-19 while in the hospital were last held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a federal detention center that contracts with the U.S. Marshal’s Service, according to ICE. (RELATED: ICE Denies Report That Illegal Immigrant Was Refused Treatment After Suffering Head, Back Injury While Detained)

ICE has temporarily reduced the population of all its facilities to 75% capacity or less since March “in an effort to minimize the spread of the virus within” its facilities, Bennett told the DCNF. Over 15,500 people are currently detained by ICE.

“ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care, including those who come into ICE custody with prior medical conditions or who have never before received appropriate medical care,” Bennett told the DCNF.

ICE does not account for deaths if a detainee dies of COVID-19 related causes once released from custody even if they contracted the virus while in custody, PBS reported. As of August 2020, ICE had over 4,400 positive COVID-19 cases and only reported four detainee deaths.

“This has been a problem, with ICE hospitalizing people, releasing them, and then they die,” Al Otro Lado litigation director Erika Pinheiro said, CBS reported. ICE released over 900 detainees who were deemed to be high-risk and around 500 others were released in compliance with court orders.

When a detainee’s death is reported, ICE will notify Congress, non-governmental stakeholders and the media within two business days of the incident, Bennett told the DCNF. Anyone who dies while in ICE custody, even if they have been transferred to a facility to receive care, is considered to be an in-custody death.

Al Otro Lado and LULAC did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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