Death Toll in ICE Custody Climbs to 17 with 2 deaths reported this week as COVID-19 Ravages Detention Centers Nationwide

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, August 7, 2020

Washington, DC — This week two deaths were reported in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody, Kuan Hui Lee, a 51-year-old man who died after being detained at the Krome Detention Center in Miami, and a unidentified 72-year-old man who tested positive for COVID-19 while detained at the Immigration Centers of America (ICA)-operated Farmville Detention Center in Virginia. The two deaths bring the alarming death toll in ICE custody to 17 for FY2020, making it the deadliest year for the egregious agency since 2006, as reported by Buzzfeed.

“ICE disregards the safety and wellbeing of people in its custody resulting in deadly consequences,” said Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. “Despite countless calls to free people from detention amid the rising rates of COVID-19 infection, ICE has done nothing — ICE is complicit in this loss of life. Now, more than ever, we see the importance of ending this arbitrary and inhumane system of detention.”

There are currently 917 positive cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention. Farmville has the largest outbreak in the country, with 225 cases at the detention center. People detained at the facility have been speaking out and protesting against their incarceration and ICE’s negligence, including transferring people from other states into Farmville causing cases to spike. Hunger strikes have been met with violent retaliation by ICA and ICE, including the use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, and solitary confinement.

“The death at Farmville was preventable, full stop. Farmville is a public health risk not only to the hundreds of people languishing behind its bars, but also to surrounding communities,” said Electra Bolotas of La ColectiVa based in Virginia. “Instead of shutting down operations at the COVID-19-ridden facility, the United States government gifted ICA millions of dollars of federal relief through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It’s time for our elected officials to get their priorities straight and protect the health of all communities.” 

Since 2003, 211 people have died in ICE immigrant detention. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention, Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention and Systemic Indifference: Dangerous and Substandard Medical Care in US Immigration Detention, have found that inadequate medical care has contributed to numerous deaths and that ICE lacks urgency and transparency when reporting deaths in its custody.

“There is one way and one way only to stem the tide of suffering and death that flows from ICE’s current custody and transfer policies,” said Andrew Free, co-founder of the #DetentionKills Network, which has assisted or represented families of over a dozen in-custody DHS deaths since 2017. “Free them all.”