COVID-19 got major help from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for-profit detention executives in decimating one immigration prison in Virginia and creating the single worst outbreak of any such facility in the nation, Daily Beast has found. Facing lawsuits demanding the release of detained people amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the agency instead shuffled many to Immigration Centers of America (ICA) in Farmville—and to disastrous results.
The report said that as of last weekend, “at least 268 out of around 360 detained people” and at least 22 guards at the for-profit prison have tested positive. “Both former ICA Farmville employees who spoke with The Daily Beast described an administrative staff more concerned with making money than with the health and lives of its detainees and its workers,” the report said.
ICE has refused to release even children and their parents together from migrant family jails across the nation amid the pandemic, with unconfirmed acting Department of Homeland Security Sec. Chad Wolf comparing it to a “jailbreak.” But ICE certainly isn’t alone in this abuse. The report notes that ICA’s director has always had the ability to refuse transfers, “[b]ut he did not exercise that right,” Daily Beast said. ICA also claims that since the facility is half full, detained people have space to social distance. Not so, some said.
“A detainee The Daily Beast will call Freddy said that was misleading,” the report said. “’No, we’re sleeping like we’re partners. The beds are basically attached to each other. The space here is small,’ Freddy said.” The detained man also pushed back on claims that nearly all of the positive cases at the facility are asymptomatic. “No, that’s a lie. Here, everyone has symptoms,” he said in the report.
Keep in mind that so much of this misery is happening because of mass detention policies. The agency has always had the ability to just release people, but that would mean showing some humanity to immigrants. “In my opinion, to avoid releases, they’re shifting people around the country or moving them to other detention facilities outside of south Florida,” immigration attorney Heriberto Hernandez told Daily Beast. He said that when one client tested positive at ICA, “all they did was give him cold medicine.”
Also keep in mind that ICE has also played a major role in spreading this virus across the world. An investigation by The New York Times and The Marshall Project last month “tracked over 200 deportation flights carrying migrants, some of them ill with coronavirus, to other countries from March through June. … So far, the governments of 11 countries have confirmed that deportees returned home with Covid-19.” At the Mexican camp where asylum-seekers have been forced by the Trump administration to wait out their cases, some have also become sick. “This was avoidable,” Refugees International tweeted.
But really so much of this cruelty has been avoidable. ICE currently has more than 22,000 people in custody right now, with nearly 1,000 of them testing positive for COVID-19. ICE’s website still lists only 45 employees as having tested positive because the agency excludes contracted workers from its tally. In reality, 900 detention staffers have tested positive, private prison executives recently told Congress. So not only is the administration intentionally keeping people in harm, it’s being intentionally misleading.
“We think we’re going to die at any time,” detained immigrant “Michael” told Daily Beast. “The help we need we’re not getting. We think we’re going to die without seeing our families. A lot of people here are suffering.”