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First coronavirus death in U.S. immigration detention reported

The victim was a 57-year-old man hospitalized in April, a health official said.
Detainees are seen at Otay Mesa immigration detention center in San Diego
Detainees at Otay Mesa immigration detention center in San Diego, Calif., on May 18, 2018.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters file

SAN DIEGO - The first coronavirus-related death of a U.S. immigration detainee was reported by health officials Wednesday.

The man was being held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center near the U.S.-Mexico border before being hospitalized, said Eric McDonald, a medical director at San Diego County's public health department.

"We can confirm that we had a report this morning of a 57-year-old male detainee who had formerly been at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility and had been hospitalized since late April did die early this morning from complications of COVID," McDonald said.

Image: Men sit in the sun at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, on May 26, 2010.
Men sit in the sun at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, on May 26, 2010.Gregory Bull / AP file

With 132 COVID-19 cases, the contractor-run facility has the most patients by far of the 41 detention centers where the virus has been reported. There have also been 10 employees at the facility who have contracted the virus, according to ICE.

Last month two Monroe, Louisiana, detention center guards, identified as Carl Lenard, 62, and Stanton Johnson, 51, died from the virus, authorities said.

Court challenges in multiple states seek to compel ICE to release detainees in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The Otay Mesa center southeast of San Diego is the subject of such a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The facility has also been the target of protesters who, on April 11, drove up in vehicles and honked to bring attention to the health conditions.

"Despite unwavering calls to prevent this, Trump's immigration system took another life," Paola Luisi, co-director of the immigrant advocacy group Families Belong Together said in a statement Wednesday.

"You cannot cage a virus, and it is impossible to safely physically distance behind bars," she said. "We fear this tragic death will be the first."

ICE did not immediately respond to request for more information about the death.