This has been the out-of-control Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s deadliest period in nearly 15 years. BuzzFeed News reports that the deaths of two immigrants on the same day this past week were the sixteenth and seventeenth in-custody deaths this fiscal year, “making it the highest total since 2006, when 19 immigrants died, according to ICE records.”
The deaths on Wednesday came as the unshackled mass detention agency refuses to release even children and their parents together amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. While specific details around one of the deaths in particular still remained very unclear, BuzzFeed News reported that the man had tested positive for COVID-19 after being jailed at one of the most hard-hit detention facilities in the nation.
BuzzFeed News reports the 72-year-old man had been jailed at Immigration Centers of America (ICA) in Virginia, which has reported nearly 300 COVID-19 cases. Detainees at the Farmville facility have said that they’ve been in fear for their lives, disputing claims from the for-profit facility that they have room to social distance. “We think we’re going to die at any time,” one man told Daily Beast. “The help we need we’re not getting. We think we’re going to die without seeing our families. A lot of people here are suffering.”
There was no specific information available about 72-year-old man’s death, including whether or not he was hospitalized at the time. What is known is that advocates have pushed the agency to at least release particularly vulnerable people, like seniors, during the pandemic. But in spite of a federal judge telling ICE to identify particularly vulnerable people and consider releasing them, the agency keeps many in danger.
ICE did confirm the death of 51-year-old Kuan Hui Lee, claiming in a statement that he was rushed to a hospital after being found “unresponsive” at Florida’s Krome Service Processing Center, a facility targeted in a recent lawsuit for also failing to do the bare minimum to protect detainees. The 51-year-old “was pronounced dead at 1:36 p.m. local time by hospital medical staff at the Kendall Regional Medical Center,” the statement said, “where he had been in critical condition with a diagnosis of a massive intercranial hemorrhage.”
“The number of deaths in ICE custody so far is also double that of the last fiscal year, despite a significant drop in the immigrant detainee population,” BuzzFeed News said. “Last fall, there were more than 55,000 people in ICE custody. As of Aug. 1, that number had dropped to about 21,500.” ICE could lower that number to zero if it wanted to amid a pandemic that has now killed nearly 160,000 people in the U.S. so far. But ICE won’t.