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Third immigrant detained by ICE dies after contracting the coronavirus

A Mexican immigrant died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody over the weekend after contracting the coronavirus, according to the agency. This is the third known ICE detainee death linked to the virus.

Onoval Perez-Montufa, a 51-year-old immigrant from Mexico, died Sunday afternoon at a south Florida hospital, where he had been hospitalized since July 1. ICE said he was transferred there after he reported having trouble breathing while at the Glades County Detention Center, a facility in Clewiston, Florida, operated by the local sheriff's office and used by ICE to hold immigrants it seeks to deport. Perez-Montufa tested positive for the coronavirus on July 2, according to ICE.

More than 3,180 immigrants have tested positive for the coronavirus while in ICE custody, according to the agency's latest statistics. At least 949 detainees who tested positive remain detained and have been placed in isolation or are under monitoring. Some have been deported or released.

Perez-Montufa entered ICE custody last month after serving 12 years of a 20-year prison sentence stemming from a 2008 cocaine conviction. He was in federal custody at the Federal Medical Center in Massachusetts, which holds detainees who need specialized medical and psychological care. Despite requests, ICE did not identify any health issues Perez-Montufa may have had.

ICE said it informed Perez-Montufa's family of the death, as well as Mexican consular officials, the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security and its Office of Professional Responsibility division.

The agency said in a statement Monday that Perez-Montufa was subject to "mandatory detention," a provision in immigration law that generally requires the immigration detention of non-citizens, even green card holders, who were convicted of certain crimes. The agency has maintained during the pandemic that detainees in this category are not eligible for release, even if they have medical conditions that place them at increased risk of severe illness or death if they contract the coronavirus. 

In May, ICE reported that two immigrants in its custody, Carlos Escobar Mejía and Santiago Baten-Oxlag, died of COVID-19 complications. Other detainees have been hospitalized during the pandemic, but the agency has not publicly disclosed how many. 

In testimony before Congress on Monday, the four largest ICE detention contractors — GEO Group, CoreCivic, LaSalle Corrections and the Management & Training Corporation — revealed that more than 880 of its employees have tested positive for the coronavirus so far. At least 45 direct ICE employees at detention facilities have also tested positive, according to the agency's tally. 

ICE has repeatedly stated that it has taken the necessary measures to safeguard immigrant detainees, staff and contractors from infection. The agency has pointed to the fact that the number of detainees has declined from more than 38,000 in the middle of March, to less than 23,000 as of early July.

However, much of the drop can be attributed to scaled back interior arrest and very low referrals from Customs and Border Protection officials, who are rapidly expelling most migrants and asylum-seekers from the southern border. ICE has also deported tens of thousands of detainees during the pandemic; some of which tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in their home countries.

ICE released more than 900 at-risk detainees during an internal review that ended in May, and said it is has continued to do so on a "case by case" basis.

With Perez-Montufa's death, 14 immigrants have died in ICE custody during fiscal year 2020, which started in October 2019. 

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