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National Immigration Project Files Complaint Against ICE, GEO Group, and Wellpath LLC Seeking Damages for the Death of Mr. Vargas Arellano

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Posted: Mar. 6, 2023

For Immediate Release
March 7, 2023

Arianna Rosales, National Immigration Project,

Pasadena —  The National Immigration Project and Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin today filed a complaint in the United States District Court of the Central District of California under the Federal Tort Claims Act against ICE for the death of Martin Vargas Arellano on behalf of his son Martin Vargas. The complaint also brings claims for negligence and the violation of detention standards against GEO Group, the private company that operates Adelanto ICE Processing Center (Adelanto), and Wellpath LLC, the contractors who conduct medical services at Adelanto.

Mr. Vargas Arellano was held in immigration detention at Adelanto beginning in April 2019. Throughout the next year, his health conditions required ICE to transfer him at least eleven times for inpatient care at a hospital or clinic. In 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Vargas Arellano made several requests for release based on his medical vulnerability to the virus. His age and multiple chronic conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, cellulitis, and severe psychiatric illness, meant he was at high risk of serious illness and death if he were to contract COVID-19. However, ICE repeatedly refused to release him, even after he was hospitalized and suffering due to COVID-19.

In December 2020, Mr. Vargas Arellano contracted COVID-19 from a Wellpath medical provider. In the three months following his COVID-19 infection, Mr. Vargas Arellano suffered a string of COVID-related medical complications that led to multiple hospitalizations and a stroke. On March 8, 2021, Mr. Vargas Arellano died at the age of 55 due to complications brought on by COVID-19. ICE had released him to a hospital just three days before he died without any notice to his family or immigration attorney. Federal officials at Adelanto were so unwilling to disclose information on Mr. Vargas Arellano that his attorney had to file a missing persons report to find out what happened to her client.

“ICE repeatedly denied Mr. Vargas Arellano’s requests for release despite his extreme vulnerability to COVID-19,” said Matt Vogel, Supervising Attorney at the National Immigration Project. “This is not the first time that the agency’s blatant disregard for the safety and well being of people in its custody resulted in the tragic loss of life. ICE, the GEO Group, and Wellpath must be held accountable for their gross medical neglect, and Mr. Vargas Arellano’s family must be compensated for this tragic and preventable loss.”

“ICE’s treatment of Mr. Vargas Arellano is tragic and unacceptable. He should never have been kept in Adelanto during the COVID-19 pandemic given his medical conditions,” said Stacy Tolchin, Attorney at the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin. “Further, ICE ‘released’ him from custody while he lay dying in the hospital, allowing ICE to avoid having to report a custodial death to Congress.  ICE must be held accountable.”  


The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Learn more at Follow NIPNLG on social media: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on Facebook, @NIPNLG on Twitter and Instagram.