‘He’s at Risk of Dying’: Mississippi ICE Detainee With ‘Severe’ COVID-19 Moved to ICU After Family’s Pleas

Salomon Diego Alonso lies in bed while his small daughter kisses his cheek
Salomon Diego Alonso was separated from his daughter after U.S. immigration officials arrested him near Forest, Miss., during the Aug. 7 chicken-plant raids and housed him in a Louisiana ICE detention facility, where he became ill with COVID-19 in April 2020. Photo courtesy Salomon Diego Alonso family.

An immigration judge asked Salomon Diego Alonso to state his name during a phone-in court hearing Thursday morning, but the man could not speak.

“He doesn’t have the lung capacity to speak,” a guard at the Richwood Correctional Center told the judge. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has held Alonso at the private prison in Monroe, La., since ICE agents arrested him during a series of raids targeting undocumented immigrants working at Mississippi chicken plants last August.

Alonso’s wife recorded a video message Thursday saying her husband has tested positive for COVID-19. She and their young daughter fear for his life while he remains inside the facility.

“My husband is locked up, and they haven’t taken him to a doctor. He’s very sick, and I need your support to free him,” she says while sitting on a family sofa, her arms around their little girl, in the video that Mississippi Resiste posted Thursday with English subtitles. After the Mississippi Free Press first published this story, Noah Lanard reported at Mother Jones that ICE has moved Salomon Diego Alonso to an intensive care unit.

Alonso’s wife and children did not identify themselves by name, but the Immigrant Alliance of Justice and Equity told the Mississippi Free Press that the family lives near Forest, where ICE arrested a number of immigrants who worked at a chicken plant in Morton last year.

‘He’s at Risk of Dying’

In an April 16 press release, alliance co-founder Lorena Quiroz said Alonso is “experiencing respiratory symptoms so severe, he’s at risk of dying.” The organization, which recounted the story of Alonso’s call with the judge, said the man’s attorney told the organization that he “is medically monitored only twice daily” and “often is too weak to rise from bed.”

The alliance says ICE is breaking its own protocols for detainees with COVID-19, which state that “when a detainee requires a higher level of care, they are sent to a local hospital.”

ICE did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Salomon Diego Alonso’s wife and daughter pled for his release in a Facebook video. (Screencap courtesy Mississippi Resiste)

By Friday morning, ICE reported that at least 105 of its detainees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, including two in the Monroe facility. Inmates have also tested positive at other facilities where immigrants caught up in last summer’s raids held, including five at the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss.; two at the LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla, La.; one at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, La.; and four at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Pine Prairie, La.

In late March, the alliance and other immigrants-rights supporters, including U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, began urging ICE to release immigrants and allow them to serve home detention, as most did before the Trump administration began prioritizing mass detention at privately run facilities.

One ICE detainee in Louisiana, a doctor from Cuba, warned that “many will die if we are not released.”

The agency has done little to mitigate the dangers as COVID-19 exploded nationwide this month, but it did release four Mississippi fathers on humanitarian parole last week.

‘They Just Arrested Him for Working’

On Thursday, the Immigrant Alliance of Justice and Equity released an open letter to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, who supports Trump’s hardline immigration policies, calling on him to support not only the release of all ICE detainees, but to release prisoners in Mississippi’s state and county prisons and jails, which have reported numerous novel coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

“We demand the suspension of all collaboration between MS law enforcement and ICE,” the letter reads.

Reeves defended last year’s ICE raids, though, which targeted six chicken plants that U.S. immigration officials say illegally hired undocumented workers. But although the agency arrested 680 workers on Aug. 7, 2019, the government still has not charged any employers or corporate executives.

“He hasn’t done anything wrong,” Alonso’s wife said of her husband in Thursday’s video message. “They just arrested him for working. I ask you to let him go. I’m here with my daughter, sad and worried. My husband calls me saying, ‘I’m not getting any medical care. No one gives me any medicine. I don’t know what will happen.’ He hasn’t done anything wrong. I’m sad and worried, here with my little girl. Sad and alone here with my husband locked up for over 8 months, having done nothing wrong. Please, I ask you to free him, please.”

The agency has done little to mitigate the dangers as COVID-19 exploded nationwide this month, but it did release four Mississippi fathers on humanitarian parole last week.

‘Medical Care Here is Terrible’

ICE is holding Salomon Diego Alonso, seen here with his daughter, at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, La. (Photo courtesy IAJE)

On April 1, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit asking for the release of 17 ICE detainees in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi who attorneys said were “medically vulnerable” due to age or pre-existing health conditions. Diego Carrillo Och, a 65-year-old Guatemalan immigrant at the Richwood Center whom ICE arrested during last year’s poultry-plant raids in Mississippi, said in a court filing that he would go back to live with his cousin in Forest if released. ICE reported no confirmed coronavirus cases at the Monroe facility at the time, but Och told the court that he feared the guards were not taking enough precautions at home and could get infected and spread the virus to detainees.

“I am scared that I will die in this detention center from coronavirus,” Och said in the court filing. “Medical care here is terrible. When one of us has a headache or fever, the medical staff doesn’t provide us with medicine. They just ignore (us). That’s my concern—that if I fall ill they won’t do anything.”

Och said he slept in a triple bunk bed in a large room with 66 other detainees with beds spread about half a meter apart. The men in his block shared four toilets, four phones and seven showers, he said.

A federal judge in New Orleans dismissed the lawsuit on April 6, though, saying plaintiffs should have filed lawsuits in each jurisdiction where the 17 detainees are located. On April 14, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Immigrantion Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed a new lawsuit on behalf of 16 immigrants housed at facilities in Louisiana, including the Richwood Correctional Facility and the Pine Prairie Processing Center.

‘A Potential Death Sentence’

On Thursday night, both organizations, along with the MacArthur Justice Center, also filed a new lawsuit on behalf of seven people at the Adams County Correctional Center, which private prison corporation CoreCivic owns.

“The Adams facility is notoriously overcrowded, unhealthy, and lacks adequate medical facilities or expertise, and has reported that six detained people and one staff person have tested positive for COVID-19,” the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement today, adding that detainees were in danger of “a potential death sentence for a civil immigration violation.”

In the statement, Leyanis Tamayo Espinoza, a detainee at the facility, said she is “very worried” about her safety because she has multiple health conditions.

“I am already losing a lot of weight, retaining a lot of liquid and getting inflamed, suffering from chronic fevers, and not getting access to adequate care. Because of this, I fear that if the coronavirus gets in the jail, then I may die,” she said.

Cliff Johnson, the director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said in the statement that keeping people locked up in the Adams facility during a pandemic “is like throwing someone who can’t swim into the Mississippi River and hoping they get lucky enough to wash up on a sandbar before they drown.”

“It’s reckless, and the consequences could very well be lethal,” Johnson said. “All we’re asking is that our clients be given a fighting chance to avoid infection and the complications that they would suffer due to their already compromised health conditions.”

Update: On April 18, Noah Lanard reported in Mother Jones that ICE has moved Salomon Diego Alonso to an ICU after the Mississippi Free Press first published story on April 18. A number of the men who shared space with Alonso in his cell block of around 70 inmates are now also ill, Lanard reported.

Information on coronavirus prevention measures is available at the University of Mississippi Medical center’s website at umc.edu/coronavirus and at cdc.gov/coronavirus.

The Mississippi Free Press has an interactive map showing diagnosed coronavirus cases across the state and one showing the number of ICU beds in counties across the state.

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