A 34-year-old illegal immigrant died from the coronavirus while in federal custody, according to the Washington Examiner.
Guatemalan detainee Santiago Baten-Oxlaj had been waiting to self-deport when he became the second person to perish from the virus while being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Examiner reported.
ICE detainee dies of coronavirus
The man was being held at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, where he was awaiting deportation before catching the virus, ICE said in a press release.
Baten-Oxlaj was detained by ICE in early March following a conviction for driving under the influence. A judge gave him permission later that month to voluntarily return to his home country.
However, he was admitted to the hospital where he died, Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, Georgia, on April 17 after contracting the coronavirus. He died from “complications related to COVID-19,” ICE said, and he “was awaiting departure from the United States” at the time.
ICE said that they contacted the man’s family, the Guatemalan consulate, and disciplinary departments within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the agency affirmed that a review of the death is underway.
“Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population,” ICE said in a statement. “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases.”
Controversy rages over custodial deaths
The coronavirus is thought to be deadliest for older people and those with pre-existing conditions. Although Baten-Oxlaj was just 34, ICE did not say whether he was known to have any underlying health issues.
His death comes after a 57-year-old Salvadorian national died from the virus in San Diego in May, as the Daily Mail reported. The man had been held at a private prison contracted by ICE that has seen the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any of its detention centers, with 155 cases among those held there.
According to the Daily Mail, the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, which is a private jail, currently has 16 cases of coronavirus.
The deaths of migrants in ICE custody have been politically controversial in the Trump era, and some Democratic lawmakers have called for immigration enforcement to be abolished entirely. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, some Democratic lawmakers and activist groups have called on ICE to release migrants from detention, as well as convicted prisoners in the nation’s jails.
ICE has said that some 1,200 migrants in custody have tested positive for the virus, out of the more than 26,000 people in detention throughout its facilities. The agency has already released hundreds of detainees, sometimes under compulsion by court order, according to CBS News.