Tragic Death in ICE Detention Could Have Been Prevented; Medical, Legal Experts Warned of Dangerous Conditions

LOS ANGELES – Yesterday, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia tragically died after being hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19. Escobar Mejia is the first person confirmed as having died in ICE custody after contracting the disease. He had been detained at Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego since January. Human Rights First extends its deepest condolences to Escobar Mejia’s family.

“It is not too late to save lives, both in these detention centers and local communities,” said Robyn Barnard, senior staff attorney at Human Rights First. “Instead of persisting in its refusal to release significant numbers from dangerous conditions in civil immigration detention, ICE should drastically reduce populations at detention facilities and jails by releasing asylum seekers and immigrants to shelter in place with family and friends. State governors must take action given ICE’s intransigence.”

Across the country, people in ICE detention remain in grave danger due to densely populated and often unsanitary conditions. Many detention facilities are in remote areas, where local hospitals will be overwhelmed if infections reach a crisis point.

Public health experts and former ICE officials have repeatedly called for people to be released from these facilities to protect their health and the health of the communities around them. Human Rights First recently sued DHS in California and New Jersey and successfully secured the release of particularly vulnerable individuals in several immigration detention centers.

Human Rights First has joined with Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International to urge governors to act to save lives given ICE’s unwillingness to do what is necessary. Acting now to release people can prevent more preventable tragedies like the loss of Escobar Mejia.

To speak with Robyn Barnard or others at Human Rights First who are working with immigrants in detention, please contact Meredith MacKenzie, [email protected], (202) 412-4270.


Published on May 7, 2020


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