Minneapolis vigil honors Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia, first person to die of COVID-19 in ICE detention

By Brad Sigal |
May 12, 2020
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Vigil honors Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia who died of COVID-19 in ICE detention
Vigil to honor Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia, first person to die of COVID-19 in ICE detention (Photo by Brad Sigal)

Minneapolis, MN - After dark on Monday, May 11, the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) held a candlelight vigil at the Minneapolis Federal Courthouse to remember Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia. He is the first person reported to die of COVID-19 while in jail detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The speakers at the vigil called on people to remember Carlos and called on government officials to free all ICE detainees.

Because of COVID-19, all vigil participants wore a mask and maintained social distance.

During the vigil, Escobar-Mejia’s name was also projected on a large wall of the Federal Courthouse. Escobar-Mejia was a 57-year-old man from El Salvador held in ICE custody who died May 6 after testing positive for COVID-19 six weeks ago.

He was imprisoned at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, an immigration jail run by the private prison company CoreCivic, which is notorious for poor conditions as they profit off of incarcerating immigrants. Otay has the highest number of COVID-19 cases of any detention center in the country.

Escobar-Mejia was on a list of medically vulnerable detainees who had been mandated for review by a federal judge when he died, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Daniel Romero of MIRAC and the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration led vigil participants in repeating Carlos’s name so he would not be forgotten, saying “¡Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia presente!” A woman who could not attend because she works in a nursing home and was working an extra shift sent her speech which was read at the vigil. Her brother was detained by ICE last year and she spoke of the terrible conditions faced by ICE detainees and the impossibility of practicing proper social distancing and hygiene in jail, making larger COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths practically inevitable if people are not released from detention.

Loretta Van Pelt of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar also spoke at the vigil, making connections to the plight of all prisoners, not just ICE detainees, and the fact that like the criminal justice system, COVID-19 is hitting Black and brown communities hardest.

Protesters called on county jails, state officials, and the ICE to release all ICE detainees immediately to avoid more preventable deaths from COVID-19 in jails. ICE detainees are civil detainees and ICE has broad authority to release them. Protesters repeated the demand that they #FreeThemAll.

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