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Posted on Fri, Apr. 14, 2006

Comatose illegal immigrant dies
Merchan was awaiting deportation when she collapsed in Ramsey County jail

Pioneer Press

Maria Inamagua Merchan, an illegal immigrant who collapsed in the Ramsey County jail while awaiting deportation, died Thursday at Regions Hospital after being taken off life support, her family said.

Merchan, 30, a native of Ecuador who for many put a human face on the emotionally charged local and national illegal-immigration debate, lapsed into a coma April 3 after hitting her head on a jail bed.

Her family criticized jail officials for not taking her previous health complaints more seriously and for failing to seek medical attention quickly after she collapsed. Once she got to the hospital, doctors diagnosed her with a brain parasite.

Relatives said they decided to take Merchan off a breathing machine after tests showed she had no brain activity. Her heart also was failing.

"We were preparing for this this past week, but it's still painful,'' said cousin Martha Urgiles of Minneapolis.

Merchan arrived in Minnesota nine years ago after illegally entering the United States from Mexico. She held a series of cleaning, food and maintenance jobs. At the time of her arrest and incarceration, she was employed at a department-store eatery in downtown Minneapolis, her family said. Merchan was jailed two months ago after violating a deportation order.

Medical records obtained by the Pioneer Press indicate that prison medical staffers observed Merchan for nearly four hours as her condition deteriorated before rushing her by ambulance to the nearby hospital. Jailers were unaware of her brain condition, which was first diagnosed at the hospital.

Merchan complained of painful headaches during her confinement. She received painkillers before bed check. Ramsey County officials said that no specialist or other physician outside of the jail facility ever saw the woman.

Merchan is survived by her husband, Patricio Flores, and 6-year-old daughter, Joanna. The girl last saw her mother as Merchan was being arrested. Merchan's mother also was arrested, jailed and deported three weeks ago.

Funeral arrangements are pending, including a likely burial in Ecuador.

"Her dream was to make it here and someday return to Ecuador,'' her husband said last week.

"This is not the way she wanted to return.''

Rubén Rosario can be reached at or 651-228-5454.