FARMVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — A 72-year-old Canadian man who was in custody at an immigration detention center in Farmville, a facility where nearly 90 percent of detainees are positive for COVID-19, died Wednesday after spending nearly a month in the hospital.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said Friday that the man tested positive for the novel coronavirus in July, less than three months after he entered ICE custody in Farmville, but stated that the cause of death has yet to be determined.
“A 72-year-old Canadian national subject to mandatory detention under federal law in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Immigration Centers of America (ICA) Farmville Detention Center in Farmville, Virginia, died Wednesday night at a Virginia hospital, where he had been receiving treatment for several weeks,” a spokesperson for ICE, Kaitlyn Pote, said in a statement. “The preliminary cause of death is undetermined at this time.”
According to ICE’s website, as of Aug. 6, 339 total detainees at the facility have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and 259 are currently under observation or in isolation. There are 298 individuals detained at the facility as of Friday.
A report published Thursday by a Canadian news outlet, The Globe and Mail, states that the man was supposed to be deported to Canada on July 9 after serving time in prison for illegally prescribing Oxycontin to patients without seeing them first while as a former physician in Louisiana.
The man, identified as James T. Hill, was admitted to Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville on July 10 after reporting shortness of breath, according to ICE. Hill was transferred to Lynchburg General Hospital the next day where he tested positive for COVID-19.
Luis Oyola, a community organizer for the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program, said the death affirms the need for the state to get involved.
“This is very tragic,” Oyola said, “shows why it’s important for the state to get involved.”
Last month, sensing the dire situation at the facility, Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia’s two U.S. senators sent separate letters to President Donald Trump urging him to send a team from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to the immigration detention center.
In a letter obtained by 8News, Northam asks Trump to have the CDC, the nation’s top public health agency, intervene immediately.
“Virginians in congregate housing, such as the Farmville facility, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. This makes the need to identify and control the transmission in such settings even more urgent,” the governor wrote. “Therefore, to ensure the safety of those who live and work in the Farmville Detention Center, as well as the surrounding community, I request that the CDC respond to and assess the situation at the facility, including conducting PCR testing on all residents and staff, as soon as possible.”
After the news broke, Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah (D-Fairfax) said he is “outraged” by Hill’s death and called on the governor to close down the detention center.
“This tragedy was so obviously avoidable that it shines light on how dehumanizing & reprehensible immigration enforcement is in the US,” Samirah tweeted.