He lived in the USA for 40 years: the story of the first immigrant who died from coronavirus in ICE prison
According to the sister of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejii, his death in early May in San Diego could have been prevented. The man lived in the United States for four decades and became the first person to die from immigration custody from COVID-19. The Guardian.
Escobar Mejia, who was 57 years old, came to the US as a teenager, escaping from El Salvador after the murder of his brother during the war. The man died on May 6 in San Diego after several weeks of complaints that he was ill and that his medical history of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and an amputated leg put him at high risk of death from COVID-19 in the Otai Detention Center Mesa.
“He was weak, he should have been released,” said his sister Rosa Escobar. “They refused to take him to the doctor.” He screamed and asked for medical help. He was so scared. "
The death of Escobar Mechia came after COVID-19 fell ill with hundreds of prisoners in immigration and customs prisons. According to the defenders, the long history of unusual conditions, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at some facilities, as well as the refusal of the US government to release many prisoners with an increased risk of complications, led to a rapidly exacerbating crisis.
“These institutions don't care about people and their lives,” Rosa said a few days after her brother’s death. “These are private institutions making money from immigrants.”
Escobar Mejia was the youngest of five brothers and sisters, all of whom left El Salvador with their mother in 1980 after one of his brothers was killed in the Civil War. He lived with Rosa and their mother in Los Angeles until his mother died in 2014. While his sisters eventually became U.S. citizens, Escobar Mejia was unable to get a green card.
“His brother was killed at the height of the war, and he did not know how to adapt to life,” said Joan Del Valle, a lawyer for the Los Angeles Immigration Service, who for years represented Escobar Mejia and became close to his family. According to her, Escobar Mejia lived with addiction and was convicted several times for several years after moving to the United States, including possession of drugs and driving under their influence.
Although his crimes were committed decades ago, court records continued to harass him in the U.S. immigration courts, where Escobaru Mejii was repeatedly threatened with deportation.
In the 8 years that Del Valle represented his interests, he never missed a trial date. According to her, the man was extremely responsible. For many years he worked at a variety of jobs, including construction and cleaning, but in the end he had to amputate his leg after an accident at work and complications associated with diabetes. According to his sister, he tried to help around the house and find work, although he could no longer drive.
On January 10 this year, he was driving in a car with a friend when a US border patrol stopped them near San Diego. According to ICE representatives, Escobar Mehiya was taken to the Otai-Mesa detention center “in connection with the expulsion procedure”.
“It broke my heart,” Rosa said, referring to the arrest. - He was very scared that he would again be threatened with deportation when he did not commit any crime. He was afraid to be killed in El Salvador. He didn’t have a family there. ”
"He had to live."
Escobar Mehii's problems quickly escalated in Otai Mesa, run by the private prison corporation CoreCivic. He told his sister that he was not receiving proper diabetes care, and this was compounded by poor food quality. And Del Valle could not go to San Diego to represent him, because of her workload in Los Angeles.
COVID-19 quickly became a disaster in Otai Mesa. Lawyers and detainees have long complained of serious medical negligence in the institution.
Castillo, a 21-year-old Nicaraguan migrant who asked not to use his full name, was released from Otai Mesa in late March, when he was granted asylum. He said that the detainees were never given masks, and the guards did not wear them. The ICE continued to bring in new prisoners during the pandemic, and it was impossible to keep their distance.
“My friends, who are still there, have become infected with the coronavirus and are afraid to die. They seek refuge, they are not criminals, ”Castillo said.
Otai Mesa also ignored complaints from detainees who reported symptoms of COVID-19, said Briana, a 25-year-old immigrant from Honduras, released in April: “They didn't care. People were kept there like animals. ”
Despite the conditions in the detention center and the fragile health of Escobar Mejia, which required the use of a wheelchair, an immigration judge rejected his application for release on April 15, considering the man “dangerous from the point of view of flight”.
At about the same time, Escobar Mechia began to show symptoms of COVID-19, and about two days after the judge refused to release him, the man told his sister on the phone that he was sick and was getting worse.
Rosa said the ICE did not warn her about anything, but her brother’s detained friends called and said that “only when he was suffocating did they take him to the hospital.” It was April 24, the day when his result on coronavirus was positive.
“He was already dying,” she said.
As of May 11, there were 144 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in about 630 prisoners in Otai Mesa. Only 61 of them were tested as of May 6. In the United States, more than 850 cases of Covid-19 are reported among prisoners, although the lack of extensive testing means that the number may be higher among 30 migrants detained in civil cases.
Anne Rios, Al Otro Lado's immigrant rights advocate for immigrants, represents more than a dozen detainees in Otai Mesa, including some with COVID-19, and says the ICE refused to release her clients despite suffering from illnesses heart, diabetes, HIV, thyroid disease, hepatitis C, have previously suffered strokes and have other serious medical problems.
Although a federal judge ordered the ICE to review cases of those who are medically vulnerable, immigration lawyers say the process was slow and erroneous. Escobar Mejia was on the ICE's list for consideration, but a US government lawyer admitted that it was probably too late to respond on May 4 to save him. He died on May 6th.
An ICE statement said that the exact cause of Mechia’s death is not officially confirmed, and that the agency “conducted a comprehensive review of the incident” and “pays enough attention to the health and well-being of all those in custody.” A spokeswoman declined to comment on Mechia's medical treatment, citing privacy principles. The agency reports that the ICE stopped delivering new detainees to Otai Mesa on April 2 and released 680 prisoners from March.
Amanda Gilchrist, spokeswoman for CoreCivic, said the company was not responsible for the medical care and forwarded questions to ICE. Gilchrist said the prisoners received masks and can get new ones if they ask for them. According to her, residential blocks of people with cases of COVID-19 were isolated from others.
Rosa did not hear anything from the ICE after the death of her brother. According to Del Valle, the funeral home contacted the family and stated that they would have to pay $ 1700 for the cremation.
Rosa said that her brother was like a son to her, and that she promised her dying mother that she would always take care of him. Now she is worried that she let her down: "My pain is so great."
She hopes the US will release more prisoners after her brother’s death: “I can’t get Carlos back, but [ICE] can save the lives of other people, including their employees.” If the ICE released him or intervened earlier, “he would still be alive,” she added.
Her brother always paid taxes, she noted. A few days after his death, she opened a letter addressed to him: it was federal assistance in connection with the coronavirus.
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