(Reuters) – The first immigrant in U.S. detention 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 around 30,000 immigrant detainees.
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a ICE (Immigrations & Customs Enforcement) federal detention center privately owned and operated by prison contractor CoreCivic, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in San Diego, California, U.S., April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan
A 57-year-old man, who was held at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego before being hospitalized in late April, died on Wednesday, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said.
ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
Local media reported earlier that a family representative of the deceased man had identified him. They said the man, who was diabetic and left El Salvador with his mother and sisters in 1980, had lived in the Los Angeles area and had been detained since January.
“This tragic news is even more evidence that failing to act will result in cruel and needless death,” Monika Langarica, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the death was reported.
The Otay Mesa facility near the U.S.-Mexico border can hold up to nearly 2,000 ICE detainees and U.S. Marshals Service inmates. It reported its first positive case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, late in March.
The center now has more infections – 132 – than any other center in the country, according to ICE.
Overall, more than 700 immigrants in ICE custody have tested positive for the virus out of around 1,400 who have been tested nationally.
While ICE has dialed 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.
Attorneys 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.
The coronavirus has infected about 1.2 million people in the United States and killed around 74,000 as of late Wednesday.
The global death toll from the disease stands at over 262,000, with about 3.8 million infections.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kanishka Singh and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Bernadette Baum
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