A significant court settlement has placed major limits on how many people can be detained at a notorious immigration prison in Farmville, Virginia, as well as strict health standards intended to protect detained people from the novel coronavirus. The ligation was filed by 15 people who had been detained at the privately operated Immigration Centers of America (ICA), which was the site of a man-made public health disaster in summer 2020. During the worst point, 93% of the population was infected.
“Under the agreement, which will last for two years or until the CDC declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, ICA-Farmville will be allowed to detain a maximum of 180 individuals (roughly 25% capacity) and can only accept transfers of individuals who are vaccinated, asymptomatic, and test negative for COVID-19,” the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) said.
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had every ability to go the humane route and release people amid the pandemic in early 2020. Instead, officials recklessly transferred sick migrants from numerous states to the Farmville facility as an excuse to move agents to D.C. in order to stifle police violence protests, in the process creating what was at the time the worst outbreak of any immigration detention facility in the nation. Of the 74 people transferred from Arizona and Florida, 51 were sick, NIPNLG said. The organization sued alongside Legal Aid Justice Center and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.
”As a result of the litigation, the court quickly ordered ICE to stop all transfers into the facility and ordered a health inspection of Farmville's COVID-19 response,” NIPNLG continued. “Now, thanks not only to the litigation but also to widespread community efforts, the privately-run immigration detention center that once held hundreds of people holds only two people, proving that the center does not need to exist.”
Impacted immigrants and advocates have repeatedly called on the Biden administration to shut down the facility, most recently last December, when more than 100 state and national organizations said the 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.”
“Now is the time to act,” the coalition continued in December. “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.” Like litigants in the lawsuit note, the population is now even lower than that, at just two people. Closing Farmville is both humane and cost-effective.
"ICE showed a reckless disregard for human lives when they transferred COVID-positive detainees into ICA-Farmville without adequate testing or isolation, even by the standards of what was commonly known in summer 2020," said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at the Legal Aid Justice Center. "Then they made matters worse by failing to ensure protection within the detention center, and failing to provide adequate medical care for those who got infected. Our clients are suffering the effects of long COVID to this day. This settlement will make sure that never happens again."
Officials’ direct actions caused the Farmville crisis, then tried to cover it up. When an independent public health expert was given power to inspect the facility as part of litigation, “[g]overnment officials fought unsuccessfully to block the inspection,” the Associated Press reported in September 2020. The expert said some sick detainees had gone days without any medical attention. The facility had lied, claiming sick people are seen within 24 hours.
"The government's conduct towards our clients and all individuals detained at ICA-Farmville was unconscionable and inhumane," said Naima Farrell of Gibson of Dunn & Crutcher LLP. "The government needlessly exposed our clients to a potentially lethal virus—the negative effects of which they continue to suffer—all so that the government could transport DHS personnel to Washington, D.C. to suppress racial justice protests and circumvent restrictions on DHS employee travel. This settlement agreement will ensure that the government does not treat our clients or their fellow detainees as mere collateral damage going forward, and will instead fulfill its obligations to protect the individuals in its care.”
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