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A 70-Year-Old Costa Rican Immigrant Who Died In ICE Custody Had Tested Positive For COVID-19

Medical experts and immigrant advocates have warned that the highly contagious COVID-19 puts everyone in detention at risk.

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A blind detainee walks with a fellow immigrant in an ICE detention facility.

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A 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a Georgia hospital on Monday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, making him the third detainee to die in a week.

The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, the same site where another detainee, Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, 34, had been in ICE custody before he died in May after also testing positive for the coronavirus.

ICE officials confirmed that a 70-year-old Costa Rican national had died in government custody at a hospital on Monday, but did not release any other details. The man is the 18th detainee to die in ICE custody during the 2020 fiscal year, which ends on Sep. 30.

The total number of ICE deaths so far this fiscal year is the highest total since 2006, when 19 immigrants died, according to ICE records.

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Medical experts and immigrant advocates have warned that the highly contagious COVID-19 puts everyone in detention at risk. But for the older detainees in ICE custody, the inherent problems within jails — a lack of necessary space to accommodate proper social distancing guidelines — put them in even more danger, they say.

Advocates have used these arguments as a way to push for more releases.

As of Aug. 10, more than 1,000 ICE detainees had tested positive for COVID-19. And more than 4,000 had contracted the disease while in custody.

The number of deaths in ICE custody so far is more than double that of the last fiscal year, despite a significant drop in the immigrant detainee population.

Last fall, there were more than 55,000 people in ICE custody per day. As of Aug. 1, that number had dropped to about 21,500 per day.

Hamed Aleaziz is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Hamed Aleaziz at hamed.aleaziz@buzzfeed.com.

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