May 7, 2020 / 8:17 AM / a month ago

U.S. records first coronavirus death of immigrant detainee

(Reuters) - The United States has recorded its first death of an immigration detainee from the coronavirus, local health authorities in the state of California said on Thursday.

A 57-year-old man who was held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center near the U.S.-Mexico border before being hospitalized died on Wednesday, the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said.

The man had been held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego and hospitalized since late April, according to the agency. The ICE did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Local media reported earlier that a family representative of the deceased man had identified him. They said the man was a diabetic who had left El Salvador with his mother and sisters in 1980, adding he had lived in the Los Angeles area and had been detained since January.

“This tragic news is even more evidence that failing to act will result in cruel and needless death,” Monika Langarica, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the death was reported.

The Otay Mesa facility, which can hold up to nearly 2,000 ICE detainees and U.S. Marshals Service inmates, reported its first positive COVID-19 case in late in March.

While ICE has dialed back arrest operations and agreed to review cases of some at-risk immigrants in custody, it still has tens of thousands in detention and is proceeding with deportation flights. [nL2N2CC135]

Pro-immigrant advocates have called for detainees - particularly low-level offenders - to be released from custody given the risks of contracting COVID-19 in detention.

The coronavirus has infected about 1.2 million people in the United States and killed around 74,000 as of late Wednesday.

The global death toll from COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, stands at over 262,000 with about 3.8 million infections.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru, editing by Mark Heinrich

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