A federal judge this week ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately stop moving people into a privately operated prison in Virginia, The Washington Post reports, where the agency’s direct actions caused the worst COVID-19 outbreak of any immigration detention facility in the nation.
ICE had every ability to go the humane route and release people amid the pandemic. Instead, the agency transferred nearly 80 people from facilities in Arizona and Florida to Farmville’s Immigration Centers of America (ICA) without first separating them from the general population, creating a humanitarian disaster: As of Aug. 13, nearly 340 detainees there have tested positive for COVID-19.
The lawsuit filed on behalf detained people at Farmville states that more than 50 of the people ICE transferred from other states to the facility tested positive, the report said: “An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment on the hearing but reiterated an earlier statement saying that the health, welfare and safety of immigrant detainees ‘is one of the agency’s highest priorities.’”
This is fiction—bestseller!—considering ICA also “repeatedly turned down offers from the state health department for help with testing,” the report continued. The situation at Farmville has now become so dire that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) team arrived at the facility on Monday, all because ICE just couldn’t bring itself to release people to their homes and communities.
The report said that plaintiffs have also asked U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema to allow an independent public health expert to inspect the facility. It’s unclear whether that will happen, but she is allowing the plaintiffs and their expert to listen in when the CDC relays their findings to ICE, something Legal Aid Justice Center’s Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg told DCist is a win.
“We’re pleased with the ruling—it’s a good start, but there’s a lot of work still to be done,” he said according to the report. “We’ve heard horror stories about medical negligence, people who are very, very sick and are only being treated with Tylenol.” In just one example last year, officials at another notorious detention facility in California treated an asylum-seeker who’d survived a shot to the head with ibuprofen, despite suffering blinding headaches and regular bleeding from his eyes, ears, and nose. He ultimately, and thankfully, won his case.
But ICE’s cruelty has horrifying continued. BuzzFeed News reported that the deaths of two immigrants on the same day last week were the sixteenth and seventeenth in-custody deaths this fiscal year, “making it the highest total since 2006, when 19 immigrants died, according to ICE records.” One of those two people was a 72-year-old man who had tested positive for COVID-19. He had been held at Farmville.