May 7 (UPI) -- An asylum seeker has died from complications of the coronavirus while in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, officials said, marking the first death of a detainee to COVID-19 in immigration custody.
California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez announced the death Wednesday on Twitter, stating the detainee had been held at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego.
Dr. Eric McDonald, the medical director for San Diego County's epidemiology immunization branch, told reporters the 57-year-old detainee died Wednesday morning and had been hospitalized since late April.
According to ICE's website, 132 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among the Otay Mesa Detention Facility's detainee population, making it by far the most infected ICE detention facility. At least 10 employees there have also tested positive for the virus.
McDonald said the facility also contains San Diego's largest coronavirus outbreak.
The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego last month filed a lawsuit against ICE and CoreCivic, owner of the Otay Mesa facility, to reduce the number of detainees at the site to protect their health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Andrea Flores, deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU, called the man's death "a terrible tragedy" and one that was "entirely predictable and preventable."
"For months, public health experts and corrections officials have warned that detention centers would be Petri dishes for the spread of COVID-19 -- and a death trap for thousands of people in civil detention," Flores said in a statement. "Unless ICE acts quickly to release far more people from detention, they will keep getting sick and many more will die."
Dr. Ranit Mishori, senior medical advisor at Physicians for Human Rights, also called on ICE to release more detainees.
"If ICE wants this tragic COVID-19 death to be an outlier rather than the new normal, it must act now to release detainees on humanitarian and public health grounds," Mishori said in a statement. "All people deserve to shelter in place with their families rather than be confined to the potential death traps of ICE detention facilities."
The death came amid a greater push by activists, such as the ACLU, for all forms of detention facilities to release detainees, particularly those who suffer from underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of the coronavirus.
ICE confirmed its first COVID-19-positive detainee on March 24. In the six weeks since, it has reported 705 confirmed cases among the 1,460 detainees it has tested.