More than 100 state and national groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, Progress Virginia, and Doctors for Camp Closure are urging Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to shut down a privately run detention facility notorious for anti-immigrant abuses for well over a decade.
The groups say in the letter that Immigration Centers of America’s (ICA) Farmville facility “has long forced detained immigrants to endure terrible conditions including excessive use of force, solitary confinement, and limited access to counsel and family members.” During the novel coronavirus pandemic, it was site of one of the worst outbreaks in the nation.
“Due to the facility’s mismanagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, in July 2020 more than 300 people in detention—93% of the population of those detained—became infected, in what was at the time the largest outbreak at any such facility in the country,” groups tell Mayorkas. “One immigrant died as a result of ICA-Farmville’s cavalier attitude toward people in detention’s health and welfare.”
The previous administration in fact tried to block an inspection ordered as part of a lawsuit against the Farmville facility. The health situation there was so dire that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention team visited the site, all because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) just couldn’t bring itself to release people to their homes and communities, which it has every ability to do. ICE under the Biden administration has continued to put the safety and lives of detained immigrants at risk amid the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, this was not the first time someone died because of medical neglect at the facility,” groups continue. “By ICE’s own account, in 2011, a 35-year-old man died while detained at ICA-Farmville due to the facility’s failure to properly provide a medical screening and delays in referring him to appropriate medical care.
“Such abuses and mismanagement have only grown worse over the past two years,” they continue. “In 2019 and 2020, guards used excessive force against people detained who protested their unsafe conditions by deploying pepper spray and holding people in solitary confinement. By ICE’s own records, for years ICA-Farmville has been plagued by use-of-force issues, unjustified use of restraints, and unsafe contaminated food.”
Mayorkas has previously ordered the termination of a number of immigration contracts for facilities with abusive records, including Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC). Lawmakers investigating abuses against immigrants detained at ICDC recently said that Mahendra Amin, the gynecologist accused of abusing immigrant women, may have also been defrauding the government. The over 100 organizations from the letter are calling for Farmville’s inclusion in that list of terminated contracts.
“Now is the time to act,” they write. “Due to a court injunction resulting from ICA-Farmville’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis, the facility currently holds an all-time low of 12 people in detention, down from an average of well over 700 prior to the beginning of the pandemic. Closing the facility would not result in a major disruption of operations.”
President Biden’s campaign platform pledged to “make clear that the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.” He should keep that pledge, and have his administration end this contract. “Cancelling this contract will not only put an end to ICA-Farmville’s long record of abuse, but it will also exemplify the Biden Administration’s commitment to fulfilling its promises of fair and humane treatment of immigrants across the nation,” the organizations continue.