May 16, 2021

Guatemalan dies from COVID-19 in a US immigration detention center


A Guatemalan immigrant who was being held at the Stewart Detention Center, in southern Georgia (USA), died after being infected with coronavirus, local media and the authorities of the Central American country reported.

Santiago Baten Oxlaj, 34, is the second undocumented person to die while in custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE), after the death of Salvadoran Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía, 57, earlier this month. He was in the custody of the federal agency in San Diego (California).

To these should be added the case of the Honduran Óscar López Acosta, who died in Ohio a few days after being released by ICE from the Morrow County jail, where he contracted the disease.

Baten Oxlaj died Sunday at a medical center after testing positive for the new coronavirus at Stewart Prison in Lumpkin, a remote area about 150 miles south of Atlanta, where ICE has confirmed 16 other cases.

The Guatemalan, whose death was first reported by BuzzFeed, had been in prison since last February 20, awaiting deportation, and his health apparently worsened because he suffered from diabetes, according to the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Since the crisis caused by the coronavirus began, immigrant advocacy organizations have warned of the serious consequences that the disease can have in ICE prisons and therefore have demanded the release of detainees.

“This is a terrible tragedy. We have been asking the government for months to release detained immigrants from these horrible prison prisons run by corporations that have a fatal history,” Azadeh N. Shahshahani, legal director of Project South, told Efe on Monday. .

ICE “has a responsibility to free all of them before a major catastrophe occurs,” he added.

According to ICE, as of May 16, of the 26,660 immigrants who were being held in their detention centers across the country, 1,201 tested positive for COVID-19 after performing a total of 2,394 tests.

An estimated 900 undocumented immigrants, considered “vulnerable,” have been released since the pandemic began, which has caused 372 immigrants to get out by court order, though none of them at Stewart.

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