By Cindy Knoebel
Freedom for Immigrants' latest COVID-19 in ICE Custody report, which covers the period between May 15 to May 28, acknowledges additional - and preventable - deaths of people in detention.
Here are the detained people who have died since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus:
May 6: Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia. Fifty-seven years old, Mejia had lived in the Los Angeles area for 20 years and is the first detained person to die from the COVID-19 virus while in ICE custody. A man who knew Mejia stated, "It was all about his sister. He wanted to get home and help her out."
May 10: Óscar López Acosta. He was 42 and the father of 3 daughters. He had diabetes and had spent 18 months in detention. He died of the COVID-19 virus two weeks after being released from the Morrow County Jail.
May 13: Alonzo Garza-Salazar, 56, was being held under the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service at the Joe Corley Detention Center in TX when the virus killed him. Garza-Salazar leaves behind his wife, four children and seven grandchildren. The family came to Houston from Mexico around 15 years ago.
May 17: Choung Woong Ahn. The 74-year-old South Korean man committed suicide four days after his latest appeal for release was denied. According to his family, Ahn had health issues including lung cancer, diabetes, hypertension and a history of heart attacks. After serving an eight year sentence at Solano County Prison, he was transferred in February to the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, CA.
May 24: Santiago Baten-Oxlaj. Thirty-four years old, Baten-Oxlaj had been granted a voluntary departure to Guatemala back on March 26th. But ICE continued to detain Baten-Oxlaj at the Stewart Detention Facility in GA for two more months. He died in a Georgia hospital after testing postive for the virus.
FFI's report clearly demonstrates that actions deliberately taken by ICE are helping to spread the virus both inside and outside detention facilities. It details widespread transfers of people between facilities, including to and from facilities with large known concentrations of COVID-19 - with no screening or tests performed before transit - and no quarantines after tranfer to facilities with known cases of the virus.
In a particularly egregious example in Florida, following a court order to reduce populations at three Florida facilities, 200 people were simply transferred to other facilities rather than being released on parole, recognizance, or into alternatives to detention. A May article by the Miami Herald confirmed that cases of COVID-19 at the Broward Transitional Center leapt from 3 to 19 following the transfer of 33 people from the Krome Processing Center, where confirmed cases exceeded those at Broward. Now, Broward has more confirmed cases than Krome, which has 14.
Numerous instances of people being transferred from a facility with known cases of the virus to those without are also cited in FFI's report. For example, on May 21 a person was transferred from the Otay Mesa Detention Center in CA (which has the highest number of reported cases) to the Jackson Parish Correctional Center in LA, which didn't have any reported cases. Stephane Etienne, a man awaiting deportation to Haiti, reported he had been transferred eight times between five different facilities in three states over a six week period. He also said there was no social distancing and that buses and planes were crowded.
Finally, despite concerns from public health experts and regional government officials, ICE is continuing to carry out deportations. Research indicates that the agency oversaw 112 deportation flights to 13 countries during an eight-week period beginning in early March. Some of the flights carried people who had recently tested positive for COVID-19.
FFI's report also contains updated information on instances of medical neglect, unsanitary conditions, internal organizing, retaliation and abuse, and communications issues at over a dozen different detention centers across the country.