A 37-year-old Nicaraguan woman who crossed the border last week and said she was afraid of being deported to her home country died in ICE custody on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to government documents from BuzzFeed News emerges.
The woman, who died in a hospital in Harlingen, Texas, was arrested by border guards who took her to ICE custody after she claimed she was afraid of being deported to Nicaragua. The woman was later tested positive for COVID and was transferred to a local hospital. According to the documents, the cause of death had not yet been clarified.
ICE officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several ICE prisoners have died since the pandemic began after testing positive for COVID. The woman also appears to be the fifth person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began October 1. In the previous fiscal year ended September 30, 21 immigrants in ICE custody died, the highest number since 2005. Late last year, an immigrant in ICE custody in rural Mississippi died of a heart attack after staff failed to provide urgent medical assistance Had sent supplies to the hospital, according to a draft inspector general report received by BuzzFeed News.
At the beginning of the year, the number of immigrants who have tested positive for COVID-19 in ICE custody since the pandemic began was around 9,000. By this week the number had risen to over 22,000. The agency detains more than 25,000 immigrants across the country.
In September the House of Representatives oversight committee found that ICE prisoners died after receiving inadequate medical care and that prison staff “falsified data to cover up problems.” That same month, the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee released a report finding that people detained by ICE are often in poor medical care and that detention centers are using segregation as a threat against immigrants.
ICE has publicly insisted that the detention centers it operates, as well as those operated by private, for-profit corporations, provide thorough and adequate medical care to all detainees. Agency officials have repeatedly said that ICE takes the health and safety of detainees very seriously and while deaths are “unfortunate and always a cause for concern” they are “extremely rare”.
A senior DHS official told a federal judge this week that the Department of Homeland Security “likely encountered approximately 210,000 people” in July – the highest monthly number since 2000. “July also saw likely a record number of unaccompanied child encounters. ..and the second highest number of encounters with family units, ”added the official.
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