by Cindy Knoebel
We all knew the deaths would come. We just didn't know when.
Yesterday at noon, Kate Morrisey, immigration reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, tweeted: "I can confirm that an ICE detainee from Otay Mesa Detention Center has died from #COVID19. Story coming."
The name of the man who died in ICE custody is Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia. He was 57 and would have turned 58 later this month. He had been detained at Otay Mesa since January.
According to an internal government report obtained by BuzzFeed and cited in an article late yesterday, Mejia, who had hypertension and diabetes, was hospitalized on April 24 after exhibiting symptons of the virus. He tested positive that same day.
Morrisey's article, posted late Wednesday afternoon, notes Mejia died yesterday around 2:15 a.m.
Just nine days earlier, Mejia's bond request had been denied.
It was also on April 24th that the California Committee for Immigrant Liberation, with the support of twenty other organizations including Freedom for Immigrants, sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsome, Senator Kamala Harris, Congressman Juan Vargas, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Senator Dianne Feinstein urging them to take action to deter a "mass infection" inside the facility. It included a plea from people inside the Otay Mesa facility who wrote that "...inside this facility there are detained people who are vulnerable to infection, due to medical conditions like diabetes, heart problems, lung problems, blood cancer, among others" and that "...inside the facilities they are not adequate measures for prevention or hygiene to protect more infection."
The Otay Mesa facility has more cases of the virus than any other immigration detention facility in the U.S. As of yesterday, 132 people inside the facility had tested positve, according to ICE. It is not clear if Mejia's case is included in that number. A total of 705 people in detention have contracted the virus to date, according to ICE, with cases across 41 separate immigration detention facilities.
Yesterday, the ACLU released a statement on Mejia's death, noting that the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties had filed a class action lawsuit last month against ICE and CoreCivic, which operates the facility, demanding they "dramatically reduce the number of people detained at Otay Mesa to protect their health and safety in light of this pandemic." Last week, a judge ordered ICE and CoreCivic to begin releasing medically vulnerable people in custody at Otay Mesa immediately. By Monday, the statement says, ICE had identified over 130 such people, but had only released two.
Freedom for Immigrants has been tracking reports from and about the Otay Mesa Detention Facility through its interactive Detention Map; on April 28, IMM Print posted an article providing details about the COVID-19 outbreak at Otay Mesa, as well as multiple reports of guards pepper-spraying those protesting conditions there.
Yesterday, Pueblo Sin Fronteras posted on Twitter an audio recording from another person inside Otay Mesa: “We just had a town hall meeting right now they told us one of the detainees was dead from the Coronavirus in the hospital," the person on the call says. "We need help … We ask that you protest so that people can know people are dying here.”