An independent public health expert says that officials failed to properly screen immigrants at a Virginia detention facility that has become the site of a COVID-19 disaster, and recommends in his report that officials at the privately operated Immigration Centers of America (ICA) prison release at-risk people. If ICE will do so when it’s refusing to release even children is another matter.
The inspection was ordered as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Farmville facility, where over 90% of detainees and some workers have tested positive for COVID-19, The Associated Press reported. The agency’s direct actions caused this public health crisis, which it then tried to cover up: “Government officials fought unsuccessfully to block the inspection,” the report continued.
Like previously noted, rather than releasing people amid a pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instead shuffled immigrants from all across the country to Farmville without first separating them from the general population, creating this humanitarian disaster. Criticized for its intentional cruelty, The Washington Post reports that ICE claimed “that the health, welfare and safety of immigrant detainees ‘is one of the agency’s highest priorities.’” That’s not what independent expert Homer Venters found.
“Venters' report found fault with numerous procedures at the center,” the AP reported. “In particular, he said the center's efforts to screen inmates with COVID-19 symptoms were insufficient, and that the vast majority of detainees told him they were never asked about symptoms when they submit to daily temperature screenings.” Venters also found that some sick detainees have gone days without any medical attention. The facility had claimed sick people are seen within 24 hours. So it’s pretty clear why ICE would go to extremes to block accountability.
The expert hired by Farmville “reached different conclusions,” the AP continued. Of course he did. “That expert, William Reese, said the biggest problem he saw was that detainees were refusing to wear masks.” Wow, blaming immigrants for a crisis the federal government has made worse, how original. On this issue of masks, the AP writes that Venters said in his report that detained people told him “they felt the masks were unnecessary since most everyone in the facility had already contracted the virus.”
Again, it never had to get to this point because immigrants could have just been released to their families and communities to shelter there. Instead, more than 300 detainees and at least 22 workers at Farmville have become sick, and one 72-year-old man who was detained there and had earlier tested positive for COVID-19 has died. AL DÍA News reports “[t]he number of deaths this year is the highest it has been in 14 years, since 2006, when 19 immigrants also died according to records provided by ICE.”
This was avoidable. “ICE and the facility caused the outbreak by accepting a mass transfer of people from facilities that had active COVID-19 cases, and they are failing to take the risk to the people in their care seriously,” National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project attorney Sirine Shebaya told the AP. "This raises significant concerns about ongoing risks to the people who are detained at the facility.”