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22-year-old Guatemalan asylum-seeker dies in ICE custody; 8th death since October

A 22-year-old asylum-seeker from Guatemala detained by U.S. immigration authorities died at a Texas hospital Sunday, becoming the eighth immigrant to die in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in fiscal year 2020. Maria Celéste Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez, whose death was first reported by BuzzFeed News, had been hospitalized since February 18.

According to officials, Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez died of "autoimmune hepatitis, complicated by septic shock and acute liver failure" at a hospital in Fort Worth.

Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez had family in the U.S. and passed her credible fear interview, the first step for migrants to request humanitarian protection in the U.S. Traditionally, these factors have allowed migrants with no criminal records to continue their immigration proceedings outside of a detention center, but the young Guatemalan woman was in U.S. immigration custody for more than six months.

Since fiscal year 2020, which began last October, seven other immigrants have died in ICE custody. With Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez's death, there have now been as many deaths in fiscal year 2020 as there were in the entirety of fiscal year 2019. Like Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez, some of them, including a Cuban asylum-seeker who died by apparent suicide in October, were seeking humanitarian protection at the time of their death. 

"ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases," the agency said in a statement Monday.    

Conditions at detention facilities used by ICE, which oversees the main component of the largest immigration detention system in the world, have come under severe scrutiny by immigration advocates and Democrats. They've accused the agency of not having adequate medical standards in its facilities and have called on officials to allow asylum-seekers who do not pose threats to public safety to fight their deportation outside of detention centers. 

ICE has repeatedly maintained that deaths in the agency's custody "are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction" of the national average. 

According to ICE, Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez was first apprehended by Border Patrol in early September after she crossed the southern border without documents near Hidalgo, Texas. Two days later, she was transferred to ICE custody, which initially detained her at the El Valle Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas.

In early October, Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez was given a notice to appear before an immigration judge after she proved to an asylum officer that her fear of returning to Guatemala was credible. Sometime before February, Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez was transferred to a detention center in Oklahoma, according to Guatemala's Foreign Ministry. 

Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez was hospitalized on February 7 and underwent gallbladder surgery two days later. She then returned to the detention center in Oklahoma. On February 13, she was transferred to the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, according to ICE.

On February 18, ICE took Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez to a hospital near the detention center. The Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said this occurred because she was suffering from abdominal pain. Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez remained there until February 28, when she was transported to the Forth Worth hospital, where she died on Sunday.

Ochoa Yoc de Ramírez's family in Guatemala has requested help from the government there to repatriate her remains.

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