US: First coronavirus death recorded in ICE detention

Tens of thousands remain detained in ICE facilities, which advocates say are a breeding ground for the coronavirus.

US ICE detention center
Detainees attend a service in a chapel at Otay Mesa immigration detention centre [File: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

The first immigrant in detention in the United States has died of the novel coronavirus, local health authorities in the state of California said on Thursday, as infections steadily climbed among the country’s approximately 30,000 immigrant detainees.

A 57-year-old man, who was held at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego before being hospitalised in late April, died on Wednesday, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said.

ICE did not respond to a request by the Reuters news agency for comment.

The Otay Mesa facility near the US-Mexico border can hold up to nearly 2,000 ICE detainees and US Marshals Service inmates. It reported its first positive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in late March.

The centre now has more infections – 132 – than any other centre in the country, according to ICE.

Overall, more than 700 immigrants in the ICE custody have tested positive for the virus out of about 1,400 who have been tested nationally.

While ICE has dialled back arrest operations and agreed to review cases of some at-risk immigrants in custody, it still has tens of thousands in detention and is proceeding with deportation flights.

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

Lawyers have filed lawsuits seeking parole for many detainees and so far, ICE said, nearly 200 have been released after court orders and most of them had criminal charges or convictions.

Source: Reuters