May 11, 2020

Rep. Vargas Leads Letter Along With 10 Members of Congress Urging ICE To Address First Reported COVID-19 Death In Their Custody

Washington, D.C. (May 11, 2020) – Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51), released the following statement after leading a letter, along with 10 other members of Congress, addressed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concerning the first reported death in ICE custody and rapid increase in COVID-19 cases within their facilities. 

“The death of Carlos Escobar-Mejia is a brutal reminder that COVID-19 is fatal. ICE must act quickly and release ALL nonviolent detainees, giving priority to those who are medically at-risk. This is the only way that ICE can mitigate the outbreak and properly enact CDC guidelines on social distancing. 

“It has been nearly two months since our first letter and DHS and ICE have failed to respond or take our concerns seriously. As a result, their disregard to implement social distancing has led to the first coronavirus-related casualty in their custody.  The personnel are also exposed and go home to their families after each day. It's in the best interest of the general public that they ease crowding at their facilities.

“It is deeply disheartening that their agencies are unwilling to protect the lives of the personnel, detainees, the surrounding communities. This is why I led a letter with my colleagues demanding that DHS and ICE release all nonviolent detainees to follow the guidance of our professional health and disease experts. 

“Since last month, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases have increased daily. Since the first COVID-19 cases among detainees were reported, the number has increased to 788 confirmed cases. In addition, 42 ICE personnel members have tested positive. What is even more concerning is that this number does not include the contractors working in their facilities, which ICE has failed to disclose. It is impossible for them to mitigate the outbreak without first releasing all nonviolent detainees in their facilities. 

"The responsibility ultimately falls on DHS, ICE, and the administration, which have failed to properly care for individuals in detention and personnel working in their facilities. Until then, my colleagues and I will continue pushing for the release of ALL nonviolent detainees, giving priority to those who are medically at-risk." 

Vargas represents California’s 51st Congressional District which includes the southern portion of San Diego County, all of Imperial County, and California’s entire U.S.-Mexico border. Vargas was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and is currently serving his fourth term in Congress. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee.