- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A South Korean migrant awaiting deportation after being convicted of murder-related charges died over the weekend while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, the agency announced Tuesday, saying it appeared he took his own life.

Choung Woong Ahn, 74, had been trying to get released from custody over fear of contracting the coronavirus, but had his request denied by a federal judge this month.

On Sunday, he was found dead in his cell at the Mesa Verde facility in Bakersfield, California, ICE said.

“The preliminary cause of death appears to be self-inflicted strangulation; however, the case is currently under investigation,” the agency said.

The circumstances of Ahn’s death also will be investigated, as are all deaths in ICE custody, the agency said.

ICE has faced criticism over suicides at its facilities, and an inspector general’s investigation of another California facility in 2018 found nooses hung in cells.

But the agency said deaths in its custody, “statistically, are exceedingly rare.”

In the case of Ahn, he was admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant in 1988 but broke the terms of admission with his conviction in 2013.

ICE says he was found guilty of attempted murder charges with a firearms penalty enhancement, earning a 10-year sentence. Documents filed in court, meanwhile, list his conviction for second-degree murder.

He was released from a California prison in February and ICE took custody of him.

Ahn and several other detainees at Mesa Verde had asked to be released last month, citing danger to their health if they contracted COVID-19. The disease has ravaged some prisons and nursing homes where there have been outbreaks.

Ahn said that in addition to his age, he had diabetes, lung cancer and coronary artery disease.

But U.S. District Judge James Donato said the evidence for those conditions was weak, and he rejected Ahn’s request.

“It is true that individuals over the age of 60 are considered to be vulnerable and at increasing risk as age goes up. But petitioners have not shown that the general conditions at the Mesa Verde facility unduly expose Ahn and [one of the other detainees] to infection,” the judge ruled.

ICE reports more than 1,000 positive tests for its detainees, with one death at a facility in southern California.

But as of May 9, it did not list any positive COVID-19 tests at Mesa Verde.

ICE has dramatically cut its detained population, both by releasing people and curtailing new arrivals. That’s partly because illegal border crossings have dropped dramatically, cutting the number of people needing to be detained.

But judges have ordered some releases in cases where they have found COVID-19 risks.

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