A 37-year-old Nicaraguan woman who crossed the border last week and said she was fearful of being deported to her home country died in ICE custody on Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to government documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The woman, who died at a hospital in Harlingen, Texas, was arrested by Border Patrol agents, who transferred her to ICE custody after she claimed she was fearful of being deported back to Nicaragua. The woman later tested positive for COVID and was transferred to a local hospital. The cause of death had not yet been determined, according to the documents.
ICE officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Several ICE detainees have died after testing positive for COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. The woman also appears to be the fifth person to have died in ICE custody this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. In the previous fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 21 immigrants died in ICE custody, the highest number since 2005. Late last year, an immigrant in ICE custody in rural Mississippi died of a heart attack after staff did not send him to the hospital for urgent medical care, according to a draft inspector general’s report obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Earlier this year, the number of immigrants who had tested positive for COVID-19 in ICE custody since the beginning of the pandemic was around 9,000. As of this week, the number had ballooned to over 22,000. The agency is detaining more than 25,000 immigrants across the country.
In September, the House Oversight Committee found that ICE detainees died after receiving inadequate medical care and that jail workers “falsified records to cover up” issues. That same month, the House Homeland Security Committee released a report that found people detained by ICE are often given deficient medical care, and that detention centers use segregation as a threat against immigrants.
ICE has publicly insisted that the detention facilities it runs, as well as those that are 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 “exceedingly rare.”
A senior DHS official told a federal court judge this week that the Department of Homeland Security was “likely to have encountered about 210,000 individuals in July” — the highest monthly number since 2000. “July also likely included a record number of unaccompanied child encounters…and the second-highest number of family unit encounters,” the official added.