More than 70 people strong, a small caravan made its way through the quiet streets of Farmville July 27 to protest a private jail for undocumented immigrants being prepared for deportation.
“We were offering prayers for the detainees. We have lost our moral compass,” said Elena Ceberio, a protestor and member of the Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C. Its pastor, Rev Dr Nancy Petty, led the protest.
The target was the Farmville Detention Center, a facility owned by Immigration Centers of America, a Richmond-based firm formed a decade ago to cash in on a rising wave of anti-foreigner fervor.
It is part of a trend towards private prisons that started around the 1980s. By the end of the 2000s, a number of firms saw a market in undocumented immigrants and smelled opportunity.
In the Farmville case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracted with the City of Farmville to house immigrants who are to be deported. In turn, the city has a deal with ICA, which built a 772 –bed facility on the industrial outskirts of town. The city has been getting a dollar a day per prisoner, plus taxes and other benefits that reach about $250,000 a year.
The detention center has long been the focus of periodic protests but President Donald Trump’s in-your-face stances against foreigners have put the issue on the front-boiler.
There have been protests galore regarding Trump’s policies on the southern border that include building new sections of a wall and housing asylum seekers, most from Central America, in camps, often separating families.
Outrage hit a high point this summer when a photograph was released showing a drowned father holding his dead child on the banks of the Rio Grande River after they tried to cross the border. The image helped spark the Farmville protest, according to a press release by Rev Dr Petty.
As over-the-top Trump may be on immigration, the ICA facility has its roots in a wave of anti-immigrant concern dating to 2008. President Barack Obama contributed by increasing deportations of undocumented workers. In fact, records show that Obama deported considerably more people than Trump, despite Trump’s rhetoric.
According to the news outlet Axios, Trump at most deported 282,242 during one fiscal year period. Obama hit a high of 409,849 deportations in fiscal year 2012.
Richmond businessman Russell Harper of Harper Associates L.L.C., a donor to the state Republican Party, founded ICA. He and his colleagues formed ICA about the time there were strong anti-immigrant moves, especially in Northern Virginia.
In Prince William County, for instance, a building boom fueled by lax mortgage lending requirements created a shortage of construction workers. Many immigrants of Hispanic descent flocked to the county and others in Northern Virginia to build homes. Some were undocumented.
When the real estate market deflated during the 2007-2008 economic crash, construction workers found themselves without jobs. Some stayed in mostly white counties such as Prince William where some locals grew to resent their presence.
They, in turn, begat such xenophobic political firebrands as Corey Stewart who was then chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Citing the threat of immigrants and wrapping himself up in the Confederate flag (although he is from the Midwest), Stewart ran unsuccessfully for higher offices.
Such was the climate when ICA was formed. Since then, Trump has flamed latent anti-immigrant hatreds among some whites while also sparking a considerable backlash from advocates.
Recently, ICA has tried to open immigrant detention facilities in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and California without much success. When contacted, an ICA official referred all inquiries to ICE, which has yet to answer an email.
The Farmville facility has largely stayed off the radar screens of the state media, although a recent outbreak of mumps closed the private jail to visitors for several weeks.
The city, meanwhile, continues to collect its per diems and taxes on the backs of detained immigrants.There are currently no comments highlighted.