May 08, 2020

Rep. Vargas Returns to Tour Otay Mesa Detention Center In Response To First Reported COVID-19 Death In ICE Custody

San Diego, CA (May 8, 2020) – Today, Rep. Juan Vargas (CA-51) released the following statement after visiting Otay Mesa Detention Center for the second time since the first initial COVID-19 cases were reported. The visit comes after the first reported coronavirus-related death in ICE Custody. 

“In light of the passing of Carlos Escobar-Mejia, I asked to, once again, tour the Otay Mesa Detention Center. ICE had plenty of time to implement the proper measures, and now, we are facing the worst possible outcome. The current conditions make it impossible for ICE to keep their personnel and detainees safe. The Otay Mesa Detention Center is a petri dish for COVID-19 and has already claimed the life of one individual. 

“During today’s visit, I witnessed ICE’s failure to implement social distancing, which can only be relieved with the release of ALL nonviolent detainees. There is no way that detention center personnel can comply with social distancing when detainees are sleeping on top of each other. A mass reduction in the number of detained individuals is the only thing that will help mitigate the crisis at their facilities. At this point, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) alone will not save lives. 

“It is very disheartening to learn that the 57-year-old Salvadorian man was close to being released. He was diabetic with complications that led to him being an amputee.  Remember, many of the detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center are asylum seekers waiting for their day in court. Carlos Escobar-Mejia, too, was waiting for his day in court and he died. 

“Since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in early April, I led and signed onto multiple letters calling for ICE to release all nonviolent detainees, giving priority to those who are medically at-risk.  ICE must immediately release ALL nonviolent detainees. It is impossible for ICE to properly social distance and reduce the spread of the virus under their current policies and conditions.  We will continue to push and hold ICE and the administration accountable for these inhumane practices.”

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.