Second man with COVID-19 dies in US immigration custody

Santiago Baten-Oxlag, 34, died from COVID-19 complications at a hospital in the US state of Georgia.

    Guatemalan migrants accompanied by Guatemalan government officials after being deported from the US in Guatemala City [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]
    Guatemalan migrants accompanied by Guatemalan government officials after being deported from the US in Guatemala City [Luis Echeverria/Reuters]

    A Guatemalan man held in United States immigration detention has died after contracting the novel coronavirus, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed. He is the second known migrant to die of COVID-19 in immigration custody.

    In a statement on Monday, ICE said Santiago Baten-Oxlag, 34, died early on Sunday at a hospital in Columbus, Georgia, after being transferred there on April 17 from the Stewart Detention Center, a privately operated prison near the state's border with Alabama.

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    The preliminary cause of death, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News, was, "complications related to COVID-19", according to the ICE statement, which added that the agency would conduct an investigation. 

    "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," the statement read. 

    There have been 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus at the Stewart Detention Center, according to ICE. 

    It is unclear if Baten-Oxlag, who had been in custody since early March, had any underlying medical conditions. He had been granted a voluntary departure to Guatemala.

    US immigration authorities notified the victim's family, the Guatemalan government, as well as the offices of inspector general and professional responsibility within the US Department of Homeland Security.

    Baten-Oxlag's death comes less than a month after that of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, an immigrant from El Salvador who had lived in the US since the 1980s. He died of COVID-19 complications while in hospital.

    More than 1,200 immigrants in ICE custody - half of the 2,394 detainees ICE has screened for the virus - have tested positive, according to the agency.

    While ICE has dialled back arrest operations and agreed to review cases of some at-risk immigrants in custody, it continues to hold more than 26,600 across the country and is proceeding with deportation flights.

    Immigrant rights advocates have called for detainees, particularly low-level offenders, to be released from custody given the risks of contracting COVID-19 in detention.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News