Faith Leaders, Electeds, and Community Honor Mr. Choung Woong Ahn, 74-year-old immigrant who died in ICE detention
On Thursday, May 28th. faith leaders and community members from throughout the Bay Area came together to honor the memory of Choung Woong Ahn, a 74 year-old man who died in ICE custody at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility (“Mesa Verde”) on May 17. Mesa Verde is a private facility owned and operated by the for-profit corporation GEO group.
We are saddened by tragic and unnecessary death of Mr. Ahn at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield. We are outraged by the fact that Mr. Ahn was denied his own right to life by ICE and died without having a chance to be re-united with his family in a detention facility, privately owned and operated by the GEO Group.
Mr. Ahn was 74 years old, and suffered from diabetes, hypertension and heart- and lung-related issues. Since February, his family requested his release 3 times due to his medical conditions. He died on the day that his case was denied third time on May 13, 2020.
Mr. Ahn already served his time fully for his former convictions. He spent eight years at Solano State Prison in Vacaville. He earned his release, and was deemed safe to be reunited with family. Instead, ICE transferred him to the immigration detention facility in Bakersfield for deportation proceedings. ICE not only detained him, exposing a medically vulnerable old man to horrible risk of COVID19, but refused to release him 3 times, confiscating his right to see his family for good.
A most meaningful way to honor Mr. Ahn’s life is to ensure no more inhumane death in ICE and its facilities. This is now the second death in detention in California in the month of May. The first was Carlos Escobar Mejia, a 57 year old man who died from exposure to COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa facility, owned and operated by the for-profit CoreCivic. What happened to Mr. Ahn and Mr. Escobar Mejia is happening to thousands of immigrants detained in the state of California. The state of California shares in responsibility in properly investigating and holding private detention operators accountable for what is taking place in these for-profit prisons.
Secondly, we request a thorough investigation of Mr. Ahn’s death by Attorney General’s Office. The preliminary cause of death was announced as self-strangulation, and ICE will supposedly investigate his cause of death. We urge that an investigation should come from Attorney General’s Office with the goals of protecting the health and safety of the individuals in those facilities. We do not need an investigation by the agency that created the circumstances for Mr. Ahn’s death.