Detainees at the ICA Farmville Detention Center fear for their lives as COVID-19 cases soar inside the facility. Almost everyone at the Farmville Detention Center is now positive for COVID-19 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transferred in detainees from coronavirus hot spots.
At the end of April, there were just two cases of coronavirus at the detention center. As of Thursday, 315 detainees are positive for the virus. That’s nearly 90% of the current population.
“We’re all afraid to die of course,” says a Farmville center detainee who 8News is not identifying for his own protection. He told 8News he was recently hospitalized for coronavirus.
He says, “It felt like I had an elephant on my chest, I couldn’t breathe. I had headaches. My whole right side of my body was going numb.”
The detainee says he caught COVID-19 after ICE transferred in 74 detainees from Florida and Arizona, two states where virus cases are soaring. During intake, 51 tested positive for COVID-19. He says, “It’s bad over there, it’s nasty.”
In court documents, Farmville Detention Center Director Jeffrey Crawford claims none of the 74 transferred in were exposed to the general population. Yet, the detainee says there’s no way to social distance inside. He says, “The way we sleep here, he’s probably like five inches, seven inches away from me. This is ridiculous, this is not right. I mean help us out.”
“It is not possible to social distance in a detention center. The beds are actually connected in bunk beds,” said Adina Appelbaum, an attorney with Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights or CAIR Coalition.
The group has filed lawsuits seeking the release of some of the most vulnerable housed inside the Farmville facility. Edith Hinson, another attorney with CAIR Coalition, says one client said to her, “He realized that they had sent him there to die whenever they brought in the other detainees with COVID.”
The detainee talking with 8News also said the medical care for those with COVID-19 has been poor.
“They ask them for pills and they won’t even give them Tylenol,” he told 8News.
“I think it is just a gross disregard for human rights,” said Hinson.
In a statement an ICE Spokesperson says regarding transfers: “During COVID-19, the agency has taken steps to protect detainees in its custody and promote social distancing whenever possible. This has resulted in the transfer of detainees from facilities with larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees. Prior to transport, the agency conducts temperature checks and medically screens detainees for COVID-19 symptoms.”
That ICE spokesperson also says that as of July 13, the population at the Farmville Center was 360 and that no new transfers have happened since June 2. They also told 8News, with regards to Farmville:
The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities. During COVID-19, ICE has taken important steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its detention centers the agency, including the use of expanded voluntary COVID-19 testing for detainees in the agency’s custody.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, ICA Farmville Detention Center in Farmville, Virginia, has ramped up its efforts to protect and care for detainees in its custody by providing face masks, procuring additional handwashing stations and most recently, administering comprehensive testing of all detainees.
ICA Farmville offered testing to all detainees from July 1 to 3 to ascertain the scope of COVID-19 cases at the facility. During that time, 359 detainees were tested, of which 268 have tested positive, 20 have tested negative, 71 have pending results, and one declined to be tested. The majority of those who tested positive are asymptomatic, but are being closely monitored and receiving appropriate medical care. Currently, three detainees are hospitalized and in stable condition. Detainees who have tested negative will be retested and are being held separately from positive detainees.
Medical checks are done twice daily, including a temperature screening and medication disbursement. Every detainee who needs medical attention is being seen. Farmville staff have worked diligently to keep detainees informed of the developing situation as it evolves through education and updates from medical staff on coronavirus symptoms and how their care and custody will be managed.”
ICE continues to incorporate the Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency.”U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
Both Virginia Senators Mark Warner Tim Kaine concerned about the well-being of those inside. On Thursday they fired off their second letter in a few weeks demanding answers and the immediate halt to all transfers among detention centers. In a statement to 8News Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) says in part:
“This Administration must do its job of mitigating the spread of the virus for this vulnerable population and protecting communities like Farmville. That’s why Senator Kaine and I are once again calling on the Administration to fulfill its responsibility of guaranteeing safe and sanitary conditions for individuals in government custody, particularly in the middle of a pandemic. We are demanding that ICE and DHS cease the transfer of detainees and work with the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation and confirm the seriousness of the spread in the Farmville facility. We already know that individuals detained at ICE detention facilities often share common spaces, which only increases the likelihood that the coronavirus could spread quickly among both, detainees and staff.”