First COVID-19 death in US immigration detention facility

©Agence France-Presse

Rights groups have warned that detention centers could become

Los Angeles (AFP) - A 57-year-old Salvadoran man has become the first migrant held at a US immigration detention facility to die of coronavirus, officials said Thursday.

Carlos Escobar-Mejia, who had been held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, died on Wednesday at an area hospital where he had been undergoing treatment since April 24, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement.

The center, which is run by a private contractor, has registered 132 COVID-19 cases, by far the largest number of infections of the 41 ICE detention centers where the virus has been detected.

"Migrants detained there have referred to it as a 'death trap,' due to the lack of precautionary measures being taken by staff," the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

Last month, the rights group filed a class action lawsuit against ICE and CoreCivic, the contractor, demanding they dramatically reduce the number of people at the facility in light of the pandemic.

Last week, a judge ordered that medically vulnerable people at the center be released but as of Monday, only one of 30 people who fall in that category had been freed, the ACLU said.

"This is a terrible tragedy, and it was entirely predictable and preventable," said Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU. "For months, public health experts and corrections officials have warned that detention centers would be petri dishes for the spread of COVID-19 — and a death trap for thousands of people in civil detention."

Apart from detainees having contracted the virus, there have also been 10 employees at the center who have fallen ill with COVID-19, according to ICE.