RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Senate passed Senator Jennifer Boysko’s bill requiring that immigrant detention facilities meet the state’s health and safety standards.
The bill, Senate Bill 5017, passed the Senate with a 21-16 vote. The bill expands the definition of “local correctional facility” to include the two Virginia immigration detention facilities that are contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Caroline County Detention Center and Immigration Centers of America-Farmville would fall under the state’s definition of a “local correctional facility” if Senate Bill 5017 becomes law.
Senator Boysko’s bill follows the severe COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville, in which the health department was not allowed to step in and help with coronavirus testing. Nearly 100 percent of the people detained at ICA Farmville tested positive for coronavirus.
The bill would allow the state board of local and regional jails to do the following:
- Set minimum sanitation standards
- Order unannounced inspections
- Allow the board to prohibit confinement and require the transfer of prisoners in substandard facilities
- Allow the board to review the death of an inmate
- Allow access to the facility for members of local governing bodies
At Wednesday’s special session, Boysko said the bill would give the state “the teeth” it needs to allow them to make sure that detainees are being held in clean spaces.
“Considering the recent outbreak at the Farmville immigration detention facility and now at the Caroline facility, in addition to the reports coming in from around the nation about the lack of oversight at ICE facilities, I am especially proud of our work to put additional safeguards on these facilities,” Senator Boysko told 8News.
Boysko added that this is a human rights and safety issue.
Back in May, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam expressed concern over the health of employees, contractors and people detained at Farmville and Caroline County Detention Centers. He urged the federal government to intervene since detention centers are not licensed by the State Health Commissioner.
Senator Boysko’s bill was opposed by Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) who said this is a national level issue and should be left up to Congress.
Peake expressed his concern over the economic impact the bill would have on the rural areas surrounding the Caroline County detention center and ICA Farmvile.
According to Peake, 240 people are employed at ICA Farmville. Peake said that immigration detention centers bring millions of dollars into the local economy.
“I’m concerned that by trying to control ICE at a state level, interfering with a federal preemption law, we could risk losing all those jobs in Farmville,” Sen. Peake said.
The bill is now heading to the house.