For Immediate Release:

May 21, 2020 

Contact: Tania Bernal, [email protected], 661-748-8903
Jesus Chavez, [email protected], 559-213-6841 

Community Honors Memory of Choung Woong Ahn 

BAKERSFIELD — Community members from around the Central Valley 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 Sunday evening. Mesa Verde is a private facility owned and operated by the GEO group.

On Thursday evening, community members in the Central Valley will hold a vigil to honor Mr. Ahn’s memory. On Friday at 3pm, they will hold a car rally outside of Mesa Verde.

Mr. Ahn had been held at Mesa Verde since February and suffered from diabetes, hypertension and heart and respiratory conditions. His case was a clear example of a medically vulnerable individual who was denied their right to life by ICE and GEO. The preliminary cause of death was suicide, though the case is currently under investigation by Immigration Customs and Enforcement, according to a statement by the agency. 

In response, community advocates sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, calling for an independent investigation of Mr. Ahn’s passing. 

Over 60 organizations signed on to the letter, declaring, “We do not need the agency which created the circumstances for this death to conduct an investigation. The reality is clear for everyone to see: ICE is acting as the judge, jury and executioner in these cases.”

Individuals detained at Mesa Verde mourn the loss of their friend: 

This is personal to me. Ahn was a bunk away from me,” said Donavan, Mr. Ahn’s fellow dormmate. “In the morning at 5am we would turn the TV on and watch the news. He would always walk up to me and say, ‘what up, bro.’ We shared that greeting with each other. He was a joyful man. It hurts me that a person will have to lose their life in the fight for freedom.”

Rick, another dormmate, stated, “Given his medical conditions, he should have already been out with his family. Yet he was still sitting here, waiting to get out, when he should have been one of the first ones out of here.” 

“When I first got here, I don’t have nothing, and Mr. Ahn gave me some food. He was a generous man, a very good person,” said Sitha, a fellow dormmate. “I started looking out for him since he was an older gentleman, helping him make his bed. In Asian culture he was like an uncle, and we became close. He was a great guy and I am very sad that he passed.”

Dormmate Asif provided, “Mr. Ahn was a good guy. He loved to joke and laugh. He was a very kind person, loved to share whatever he had with others. In our dorm, we would look out for him since we knew his medical conditions, and since he was an older gentleman . . . This could have all been prevented. ICE and GEO are both responsible for what happened.”

“I spent time in the dorms with Mr. Ahn. He was a kind person, he would take care of others. Given his age, we would look after him to make sure he had medical attention if he wasn’t feeling well,” stated Levi, another fellow dormmate. “Given what happened, now others do not want to go to Medical because they are scared . . . GEO failed Mr. Ahn, and they need to be held accountable.” 

Mr. Ahn’s death is the second in the state of California this month. Covid-19 outbreaks in detention facilities continue to create waves of panic for everyone inside, especially those who are medically-compromised. 

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