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Immigrant Held At Otay Mesa Detention Center Dies From Coronavirus

The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility is pictured in San Diego, June 22, 2018.
Katie Schoolov
The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility is pictured in San Diego, June 22, 2018.
A detainee in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody has died of COVID-19. This marks the first death of an immigration detainee in ICE detention nationwide.

A detainee in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody has died from COVID-19. This marks the first death of an immigration detainee in ICE detention nationwide.

Detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County were alerted by guards on Wednesday morning that a fellow detainee had died from the virus.

In federal court Monday, the government said a detainee was in "very grave" condition on a ventilator.

“This is absolutely preventable. This person died unnecessarily. It shouldn’t have happened and it doesn’t need to happen to any other families to any other people who are caught up in this system,” said Dorien Ediger-Seto, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center. Ediger-Seto currently represents several clients in detention at Otay Mesa.

RELATED: Immigrant Advocates Try To Deliver Masks To Otay Mesa Detention Center

ICE has yet to confirm the death. Buzzfeed News is reporting that the detainee was a 57-year-old citizen of El Salvador who had been on a ventilator for a week.

Last week, a judge ordered the release of over 70 medically vulnerable detainees at the facility. As of Monday, ICE had only released two individuals.

“We extend our sincere condolences to the family of the person who passed away in ICE custody at Otay Mesa this morning,” said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “We filed a lawsuit demanding the immediate release of medically vulnerable people from Otay Mesa weeks ago, urging that release under these circumstances is a matter of life and death. Today one of those people has died because ICE refused to release him when he still had a chance to survive this deadly virus.”

Langarica added, “This tragic news is even more evidence that failing to act will result in cruel and needless death.”

The detention center, which is run by the private prison group CoreCivic, currently houses 132 detainees who have tested positive for the virus. It is the largest outbreak in an immigrant detention center in the country.

It is also the largest outbreak cluster in San Diego County, according to county health officials.