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

Posted at 5:28 PM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 14:17:29-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — An Otay Mesa Detention Center detainee hospitalized since April due to the coronavirus has died, according to the county.

Carlos Escobar-Mejia, a 57-year-old man, died at Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, where he had been hospitalized since April 24, according to ICE. Dr. Eric McDonald, the county's medical director of epidemiology, confirmed Escobar-Mejia's death during a press conference Wednesday.

Escobar-Mejia tested positive for coronavirus on April 24.


Escobar-Mejia entered ICE custody on Jan. 10 after he was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol near Campo and was transferred to ICE custody at Otay Mesa Detention Center. A medical screening conducted on Jan. 11 indicated Escobar-Mejia had hypertension and self-identified as having diabetes.

Escobar-Mejia originally entered the U.S. illegally in 1980, ICE said. He was in ICE custody in March 2012 after an arrest by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. He was released on an immigration bond in June 2012.

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."

There have been 132 detainees at the facility that have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ICE, though some of those detainees may no longer be in ICE custody or may have since tested negative.

According to McDonald, the facility is the largest coroanvirus outbreak in the county, but deferred any further inquiries to the facility or ICE.

"We have supported that outbreak control effort by giving them infection control advice, by providing testing when asked for ... we've given them testing equipment at times, we've also provided them PPE when they need it," McDonald said. He added that the facility operates under federal guidelines, not under the county.

Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, issued the following statement:

"We extend our sincere condolences to the family of the person who passed away in ICE custody at Otay Mesa this morning. We filed a lawsuit demanding the immediate release of medically vulnerable people from Otay Mesa weeks ago, urging that release under these circumstances is a matter of life and death. Today one of those people has died because ICE refused to release him when he still had a chance to survive this deadly virus. We continue to call on ICE and CoreCivic to act urgently and with humanity. This tragic news is even more evidence that failing to act will result in cruel and needless death."

According to ICE, 10 ICE employees have also tested positive for the coronavirus at the detention center.