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Detainee Who Died From Coronavirus At Otay Mesa Detention Center Eligible For Release

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez tries to deliver a box of masks to Otay Mesa De...

Photo by Max Rivlin-Nadler

Above: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez tries to deliver a box of masks to Otay Mesa Detention Center on Friday, April 24th, 2020.

More details are emerging about the COVID-19-related death of a 57-year-old Salvadoran man who was held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

Carlos Escobar-Mejia had been living in the United States for 40 years but was unable to obtain legal status due to criminal convictions from the 1990s.

He’d been in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since Jan. 10 when he was stopped in a car by Border Patrol in Chula Vista.

He was denied bond by an immigration court judge on April 15 because he was considered a flight risk.

Escobar-Mejia had hypertension and was on a list that ICE was ordered to compile by a federal judge of those considered medically vulnerable and eligible for immediate release.

RELATED: Immigration Detainees Launch Hunger Strike As Outbreak Grows At Otay Mesa Detention Center

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Matthew Bowler

By the time he went on the list, however, he was already hospitalized. He died early Wednesday at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City.

“Despite what the government might say, and despite what the government did in this case, immigration detention is civil detention," said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "It’s not necessary, and it should have never been a death sentence for this person.”

The ACLU has been pushing ICE to expedite its release of detainees at Otay Mesa, to avoid even more deaths in the single largest outbreak of COVID-19 in immigration detention in the US.

“This person should not have been subject to death in immigration detention," Langarica said. "There was a way to get him out, ICE had discretion to release him and they didn’t do that.”

As of Thursday morning, there were 140 confirmed cases at the facility, which is holding 629 ICE detainees. Otay Mesa has not accepted new ICE detainees since April 2.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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