A detainee who was at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and died from complications of COVID-19 has been identified by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Carlos Escobar-Mejia, 57, from El Salvador was pronounced dead on May 6 at 2:15 a.m. at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, where he had been hospitalized since April 24, ICE said in a release.
ICE confirmed this is the first COVID-19 related death in an ICE detention center.
Joan Del Valle, an immigration attorney and now spokesperson for the Escobar-Mejia family, said she was the one who notified the family he was on a ventilator in the hospital.
Del Valle said Escobar-Mejia came to the U.S. with his mother and sister from El Salvador in 1980 to flee the civil wars and that he lived with his sister, Rosa Escobar.
“He was a loving brother, a person who cared about others, a person that wanted to cheer you up regardless of what was going on in his life,” Del Valle said.
Escobar-Mejia entered ICE custody on January 10 following his arrest by U.S. Border Patrol near Campo, California, and was transferred to the Otay Mesa Detention Center pending removal proceedings, according to ICE.
A medical screening conducted on January 11 indicated Escobar-Mejia had hypertension, and he self-identified as having diabetes. Del Valle confirmed he had part of his leg amputated due to diabetes making him more vulnerable to the virus.
Escobar-Mejia was given a COVID-19 test on April 24 which later came back positive, ICE said.
Detainee Anthony Alexandre, who has protested the treatment of detainees inside the facility, told NBC 7 that he saw Escobar-Mejia gasping for air in the general population pod before he was transferred to the hospital.
"Why did they wait for him to get so sick that he was gasping for air?" Alexandre said. "I'm afraid if the governor doesn't do something soon, we are doomed."
ICE said the preliminary cause of death was listed as undetermined.
As of May 5, 140 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 at the detention facility. The U.S. Marshals Service confirmed to NBC 7, 66 of their inmates at the detention facility have also tested positive for COVID-19, making it a total of 206 individuals positive with the virus.
"It is the largest outbreak in the county of San Diego," said Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Director with the County Epidemiology Immunization Branch at a Wednesday press briefing.
ICE is releasing dozens of detainees this week under a court order, although Alexandre said the process is far to slow and vulnerable detainees like Escobar-Mejia are getting sick before they can get out.
ICE has 629 people in custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, that’s down from nearly 1,000 people in custody back in February.
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