Rights groups mourn death of Jose Freddy Guillen Vega from COVID-19

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Advocates decry ICE’s ‘callous inaction and ruthless policies’

Lumpkin, Georgia – El Refugio, Georgia Detention Watch, Project South, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), and Detention Watch Network extend their deepest sympathies to the family of Jose Freddy Guillen Vega, who died Aug. 10 of complications from COVID-19 while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody.

Mr. Guillen Vega, 70, was sent last month to Stewart Detention Center, where he was awaiting deportation to Costa Rica. Mr. Guillen Vega’s son, Jeffery Guillen, told El Refugio that his father had diabetes and other pre-existing health conditions. He was taken to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital, where he initially responded to treatment and was removed from the ventilator. But on Monday, his son was informed by the Consulate General of Costa Rica that his father’s condition had become critical due to lung and kidney damage. The Consul later informed Mr. Guillen of his father’s death. 

Mr. Guillen Vega is the sixth person to die at Stewart Detention Center in the last three years and the second person known to die of complications from COVID-19 while in ICE custody at Stewart Detention Center. To date, there have been 154 total confirmed COVID-19 cases at the facility.

“We mourn this senseless loss of life, the death of Jose Freddy Guillen Vega, who had health complications, including diabetes, and who should have never been sent to Stewart Detention Center,” said Amilcar Valencia, Executive Director of El Refugio. “We affirm Mr. Guillen Vega’s human dignity. His life was precious and sacred, as valuable as the life of every person.”

“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.”

El Refugio, Georgia Detention Watch, Project South, GLAHR, Detention Watch Network, and other local and national organizations sounded the alarm early during the pandemic, calling upon ICE, Congress, and governors to release immigrants from ICE custody.

"Despite scores of letters and calls to ICE, local officials, and Congressional delegates urging them to release immigrants because of the notoriously dangerous conditions at Stewart Detention Center and the lack of protection against COVID-19, ICE refused to act in any meaningful way,” said Priyanka Bhatt, Staff Attorney at Project South. “The reason we are here today mourning yet another senseless and tragic loss is because of ICE's callous inaction and ruthless policies. We must hold ICE, CoreCivic, and all other responsible parties accountable for the lives that they have taken and the suffering they have caused.” 

The sprawling immigrant detention facility has a capacity of approximately 2,000. Stewart Detention Center is an all-male facility, though some transgender women are detained there. It is owned and operated by CoreCivic, one of the largest private, for-profit prison corporations in the United States. Groups have repeatedly called for Stewart Detention Center’s closure, citing medical neglect and other human rights violations.

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El Refugio provides visitation and hospitality to immigrants and asylum seekers detained at Stewart Detention Center and their loved ones. Visit elrefugioministry.org. Follow on Facebook  @elrefugiostewart and Twitter @elrefugioga. 

Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) is a coalition of organizations and individuals that advocate, alongside immigrants, to end the inhumane and unjust detention and law enforcement policies and practices directed against immigrant communities in our state.  Our coalition includes activists, community organizers, lawyers, and persons of faith. Follow on Facebook @GeorigaDetentionWatch.

Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice. Visit projectsouth.org. Follow on Twitter @ProjectSouth.

Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) educates, organizes, and empowers Latinos in Georgia to defend and advance their civil and human rights. Established in 2001, GLAHR is a community-based organization that develops statewide grassroots leadership. Visit glahr.org. Follow on Facebook @glahr.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.