LOS ANGELES – In a corner of her South L.A. home, 59-year-old Rosa Escobar Mejia often prays at an altar.

What You Need To Know

  • Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia became first to die from COVID-19 in ICE custody

  • ICE has only tested a small fraction of its 26,000 detainees

  • Dozens of lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security

  • ICE has released almost 900 people considered high risk of COVID-19

Mejia has been praying a lot lately, because she recently lost her younger brother, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, to Covid-19.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Mejia in Spanish. “I feel so much anxiety, so much sadness because of what happened to him.”

She points at a picture on the wall, “this is my brother and my mom, when we arrived here in 1980, fleeing the war in El Salvador.”

Mejia’s family immigrated to the U.S. after one of her brothers was killed in the war, allegedly by the hands of the government. She never imagined she would end up losing another brother 40 years later under the custody of a different government.

“I have so many memories, but that’s all I have left now. I miss him. I miss him so much. I loved him so much, I loved him like a mother, he was such a good person,” said Mejia.

They were the closest of all the siblings. They looked after each other and for years they worked together on a food truck. Then when Carlos got diabetes and his foot was amputated, Mejia would take him to his appointments.

They lived together from the moment they came to the U.S. until that day in January when he was arrested by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement while he was out with a friend near San Diego.

“I don’t feel at peace here at home anymore,” Mejia said as tears run down her face. “I feel like something is missing, I feel like he is missing, I just want him to be here with me forever.”

Carlos had struggled with substance abuse issues in the past, including possession and DUI convictions from 30 years ago, which kept him from getting a green card. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, and he started feeling ill, they appealed for his release from the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego.

“I’m so sad, I’m distraught because they didn’t treat him well. When he said that he didn’t feel well, that he was sick and he told them about his symptoms, they should have helped him,” said Mejia.

Carlos was not allowed to be released as the virus spread like wildfire within the facility. Otay Mesa has the biggest COVID-19 outbreak of any ICE facility with around 160 detainees testing positive.

On May 6 Carlos became the first person in the nation to die from COVID-19 in ICE custody, 21 days before his 58th birthday.

ICE said that it is committed to maintaining the highest facility standards of cleanliness, sanitation, and comprehensive medical care to all individuals in custody. So far, ICE has released almost 900 people considered high risk of contracting COVID-19.

However, ICE’s hygiene and preventive measures haven’t kept COVID-19 out of the facilities. Around 55 of the almost 200 facilities have confirmed cases. According to a report published on May 27, ICE has only tested a small fraction of their nearly 26,000 detainees and around half of detainees tested, over 1,300, are COVID-19 positive.

Last week dozens of lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, requesting a thorough investigation into their practices and Carlos’s death.

“I feel heartbroken, I ask God to give me strength because I can’t even sleep at night. When my mom died I promised her that I would take care of her son and now it’s on my conscience that I couldn’t take care of him,” said Mejia.