Community honors ICE detainee who died after testing positive for coronavirus

Posted at 8:43 PM, May 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-10 02:11:47-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Community members gathered at Otay Mesa Detention Center Saturday night to honor the memory of a detainee who died after testing positive for coronavirus.

Carlos Escobar-Mejia, 57, died Wednesday at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, where he was hospitalized since April 24th, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

READ RELATED: County: Hospitalized Otay Mesa Detention Center detainee died of COVID-19

10News spoke with Carlos's older sister Rosa and she said in Spanish losing him makes her feel like she wants to die.

She said they were extremely close their entire lives.

Carlos had part of his foot amputated, making him wheelchair bound, was diabetic and had high blood pressure according to Rosa and ICE.

Rosa said these ailments made him vulnerable when he was detained by Border Patrol near Campo in January.

Ice said he had a criminal record, and entered the country illegally in 1980.

Carlos's former immigration attorney Joan Del Valle said the two left El Salvador after their brother was assassinated and came to the U.S. out of fear.

Rosa said 'he's made mistakes, but says everyone's made mistakes, no one is perfect.'

She said when her brother got sick ICE ignored his please for help. She said he was throwing up and gasping for air.

She said it took days before he was given any medical attention.

'If they treated the detainees like humans instead of animals, he may still be alive,' she said.

Rosa broke into tears when asked what her favorite memory is of her brother. She said she couldn't recall just one, saying they were all great memories. She recounted how he would help her around the house and said he was a good brother.

CoreCivic issued a statement to 10News, reading:

"We are deeply saddened to report that a detainee who had been hospitalized from our Otay Mesa Detention Center has passed away Wednesday morning. The individual had been transported to a nearby hospital on April 24 due to symptoms of COVID-19.

We had been in close contact with our government partner, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), about the health of the detainee and immediately notified them of the individual’s passing. The exact cause of death is pending an official determination. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to this individual’s loved ones."

Below is a full statement from ICE.

“A 57-year-old Salvadoran man in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at Otay Mesa Detention Center died yesterday morning at an area hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19.

On May 6, Carlos Escobar-Mejia was pronounced dead at 2:15 a.m. local time by medical professionals at the Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, California, where he had been hospitalized since April 24, after exhibiting COVID-19 related symptoms. A COVID-19 test was administered April 24 by ICE Health Services Corp and came back positive that same day. Hospital admissions was notified of the positive test results the day he was hospitalized. The preliminary cause of death was listed as undetermined.

Consistent with the agency’s protocols, the appropriate agencies have been notified about the death, including the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Additionally, ICE has notified the Salvadoran consulate and Escobar-Mejia’s next of kin.

Escobar-Mejia entered ICE custody Jan. 10, following his arrest by U. S. Border Patrol near Campo, California, and was transferred to ICE custody at Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) due to pending removal proceedings. A medical screening conducted by IHSC at OMDC Jan. 11 indicated Mr. Escobar-Mejia had hypertension. He also self-identified as having diabetes.

On Jan. 13, ICE filed a motion for change of venue from Los Angeles to San Diego, California. An immigration judge denied him bond April 15 after deeming him a flight risk.

Escobar-Mejia originally entered the U.S. without admission or parole in 1980. Previously, Escobar-Mejia had entered ICE custody in March 2012 following his arrest on local charges by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He was released on an immigration bond in June 2012. His criminal convictions include grand theft, possession of a controlled substance, receiving known stolen property and DUI.

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. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.

The agency’s comprehensive review will be conducted by ICE senior leadership, including Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA).

ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee. Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care. Pursuant to our commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody, ICE annually spends more than $269 million on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”