- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2020

ICE confirmed the death of a detainee from El Salvador who had contracted COVID-19 while in custody in California, in a statement Thursday detailing the man’s lengthy history as an illegal immigrant and criminal.

Carlos Escobar-Mejjia had been in custody since January and as recently as April 15 had been denied bond by an immigration judge who ruled him a flight risk.

He tested showed signs of COVID-19 on April 24, was administered a test by ICE and came back positive. He was hospitalized that same day, and died May 6. The cause of death is listed as undetermined, ICE said.

Mr. Escobar-Mejia sneaked into the U.S. in 1980 and soon after racked up a series of criminal offenses including convictions for grand theft, possession of a controlled substance, receiving stolen property and driving under the influence. An immigration lawyer assisting the family says Mr. Escobar-Mejia had kept a largely clean record since.

He was arrested in 2012 on local charges in Los Angeles — which the lawyer said were later expunged — and came to ICE’s attention. He was released on an immigration bond at the time, but was rearrested in January by the Border Patrol and was transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population,” the agency said.

Mr. Escobar-Mejia’s death was first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, which interviewed his sister.

She said her brother fled El Salvador during that country’s civil war, and came to live with two sisters. They both later obtained green cards and eventually citizenship, but his criminal entanglements prevented him from gaining legal status.

Mr. Escobar-Mejia, when he was taken into ICE custody in January, was diagnosed with hypertension. He also told them he had diabetes.

Immigration-rights activists called Mr. Escobar-Mejia’s death a tragedy that could have been avoided.

have been withering in their criticism of ICE, saying it should have done more to stop the spread of the coronavirus in its facilities.

“For months, we have warned that ICE detention centers were a tinder box waiting to ignite with a COVID-19 outbreak and people would die if we did not do everything in our power to mitigate the spread of the disease by swiftly and safely reducing the number of people held in ICE detention,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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