A 22-year-old Guatemalan woman who passed her initial asylum screening and was in detention for several months died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a Texas hospital Sunday, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
The death is the eighth in ICE custody in the 2020 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and equals the number of deaths for the entire 2019 fiscal year.
ICE on Monday identified the woman as Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez and said the cause of death was “autoimmune hepatitis, complicated by septic shock and acute liver failure.” She had been detained at the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, according to the agency.
The woman had been arrested by Border Patrol officials in early September after crossing into Texas without authorization, according to the source. A few weeks later, asylum officers determined that she had passed a “credible fear” screening, the source said.
In these screenings, immigrants must prove there is a significant possibility that they have a valid fear of persecution or torture in their home country. It’s the first step in a long process to gain protections in the US, one that has come under scrutiny from Trump administration officials.
ICE has detained thousands of immigrants who have passed their initial asylum screenings, a practice that in the past generally led to them being released from custody.
On Feb. 7, Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez was taken from detention to a hospital in Oklahoma, where she was admitted. Two days later, she had her gallbladder surgically removed, the source said. On Feb. 10, she was returned to a detention center in Oklahoma, then taken to the detention facility in Texas on Feb. 13, the source said. On Feb. 18, officials took her to a hospital in Texas for treatment for abdominal pain. From that point on, she remained in the care of Texas hospitals until she was pronounced dead Sunday, the source said.
ICE officials have long said that the agency is dedicated to providing timely and comprehensive medical care to immigrants in its custody, noting that they have access to a daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care. The agency has publicized that it spends more than $269 million each year on health care services.
In December, the House Oversight and Reform Committee announced it opened an investigation into the medical care of immigrant detainees in the wake of a BuzzFeed News story that revealed a series of allegations of substandard care from a whistleblower.
BuzzFeed News first reported the memo and documented how it contained reports of detainees being given incorrect medication and suffering from delays in treating withdrawal symptoms, as well as one who was allowed to become so mentally unstable he lacerated his own penis and required surgery.