Man Dies After Contracting COVID-19 While in ICE Custody, Lawsuit Says

The highly vulnerable 55-year-old man and his lawyers had previously called for his release, and that never happened until just days before he died in the hospital.


A Mexican immigrant died after suffering health complications after contracting COVID-19 at the Adelanto detention center, according to his lawyers.

ICE finally decided to release him when the man was already in serious condition at hospital, attorneys for 55-year-old Martín Vargas Arellano said. The highly vulnerable man and his lawyers had previously called for his release, and that never happened until just days before he died in the hospital.

"I think they lied to me because they didn't want me to know," said Margaret Hellerstein, an immigration attorney.

According to the man's lawyers, ICE never informed them that Arellano, of Mexican origin, had suffered a stroke on March 3. They also say that they were not informed that two days later, ICE decided to sign his release, when he was already convalescing in the hospital, and that it was not but a week after his death that they learned from other sources that he had died alone at the health center.

"I called the medical examiner, and they told me that he died on March 8," Hellerstein said.

In addition to schizophrenia, diabetes, hepatitis and other ailments, the 55-year-old man, who had lived in the United States since the age of 5, contracted COVID-19 while at the Adelanto Detention Center and that was where his health worsened.

"He had a very serious infection and went to the hospital in December, then again in January and once again in February and then died in March," said Jessica Bansal, an attorney for the ACLU.

Because of his vulnerable state, he was part of a class action lawsuit for the release of the Adelanto detainees, but his release never happened on time, despite the fact that on several occasions they had asked for his release.

Gerry Hernandez had been hospitalized since March. Tony Shin reports July 22, 2020.

"They rejected these requests every time until he was about to die," Bansal said.

Vargas's criminal record was one of the allegations, but according to his lawyers, he was practically considered a disabled or handicapped person because of how bad his state was.

"He didn't have the ability to harm anyone, because he could barely walk," she added.

In the wake of his death, a judge has asked ICE to formally provide details of the detainee's health and the circumstances in which his release occurred.

According to activists, this is not the first time that ICE has released a detainee with serious health conditions. In 2019 Jose Luis Ibarra was released from custody after being in a coma and suffering a brain hemorrhage at the detention center. He lost his life days later after being formally released.

Telemundo52 contacted ICE about the Vargas case, but they said they couldn't comment because there is pending litigation.

This story first appeared on NBCLA's sister station, Telemundo 52. Haz clic aquí para leer esta historia en inglés. Ver más de Telemundo 52:

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