COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - Columbus community members gathered and remembered the life of 34-year-old Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, who passed away from COVID-19 complications.
Baten-Oxlaj was a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee at the Stewart Detention Center.
A lawyer that represents immigrants at Stewart Detention Center said the conditions are not keeping detainees safe from contracting COVID-19, and, therefore, some should be released.
“We’ve known that people in detention can’t follow the guidelines. They can’t maintain distances. So, we just want them to release more people. It’s not necessary to be holding so many people in immigrant and civil detention and to be putting them at risk to getting COVID-19 and dying like Santiago is just unnecessary and unjustified," said attorney Erin Argueta.
Baten-Oxlaj had been hospitalized for more than a month before he passed away. Community members at the vigil say they do not believe he would have died if he was released from ICE custody to seek protection and follow the CDC coronavirus guidelines.
“We all have a right to live here freely, to live freely from COVID-19, to live as we would please because we all a part of this country. We are all a part of this community and there is no way that your struggles is unrelated to Santiago’s who died from COVID-19 from ICE,” said Connie Tran.
In a statement from ICE, they said they are committed to the health and welfare of those in its custody and are undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as they do in all cases.