Private Immigrant Prison Has Virus Crisis

By Peter Galuszka

A private prison for undocumented immigrants in Farmville is having its own COVID-19 crisis after 90% of its detainees tested positive for the virus.

Court papers have shown that 267 inmates at the prison run by Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America have tested positive for the virus and another 80 were still awaiting results as of last week.

What seems to be an increasingly dire situation at the Farmville Detention Center on the outskirts of town has been highlighted by WRIC, the Daily Beast and HuffPost.

Officials at the prison are the target of a lawsuit by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition (CAIR) and the facility was the scene of a disturbance earlier this month when inmates refused to assemble one morning early this month and guards used pepper spray in the ensuing fracas.

Part of the problem started on June 2, when the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department sent along 74 immigrant detainees from Florida and Arizona. The Farmville facility could have refused, but the owners make profits on the per diem rates they are paid by the federal government. The City of Farmville gets a cut of the per diem as well.

According to WRIC, 90% of the inmates are infected.

The situation, which seems to have missed much of the state’s media, has prompted U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to write to the Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm to immediately halt all transfers of immigrants to Farmville.

Under Donald Trump’s orders, ICE has stepped up its crack downs of illegal immigration especially along the U.S. southern Border. ICE and Trump have been criticized for imprisoning small children in makeshift, unsanitary temporary camps.

Attorneys for CAIR have said there are more virus cases at the Farmville center than ICE is reporting. They say that inmates have told them there is little social distancing, isolation space and medical care is limited, WRIC reported.

One inmate reported that in one dorm, every person is infected.

The Farmville Detention Center, whose slogan is “Integrity, Courage, Respect, Excellence,” got its start about a decade ago when politicians began to make undocumented immigrants targets of enforcement campaigns.

One epicenter of the movement was Prince William County near Washington that saw a building boom of single family homes. Immigrants, many Hispanic, were brought in to handle some of the construction.

After the Great Recession and its real estate crash, building stopped but some of the immigrants stayed. Some did not have proper documentation. White nationalist politicians such as Corey Stewart, a Republican, campaigned to weed them out.

The founders of Immigration Centers of America, Richmond-area business executives, wanted to cash in on the move. The Farmville facility is used to imprison immigrants whose status is in question until their situations are resolved or they are deported. Few are accused of violent crimes.

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42 responses to “Private Immigrant Prison Has Virus Crisis

  1. Good catch Peter! Cannot find it in the MSM nor other but it did make
    Reuters:

    ” U.S. immigration officials spread coronavirus with detainee transfers”

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-immigration-detent/us-immigration-officials-spread-coronavirus-with-detainee-transfers-idUSKCN24I1G0

  2. Larry. Thanks. Not surprised that it made Reuter’s but not state media other than WRIC.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Important story Mr. Peter. The situation in Farmville could have slipped into the cracks of todays headlines. Only 3 have been hospitalized. I don’t think the bit about Prince William County or Corey Stewart adds to the story. That is old news now.

  4. Maybe Immigration Centers of America needs to bring in the Virginia Department of Corrections to sort things out… assuming 100% of the inmate population hasn’t been infected by then.

  5. hey – Free market principles !! and perhaps this is a government effort to see if herd immunity can be done and solve all this virus mess…. 😉

    We should turn over all of the Virginia DOC to this private sector company, no?

  6. Once again, we see Peter advocating for selective enforcement of laws. If the people hadn’t entered the country illegally, they wouldn’t have been in the holding center – prison. What if we stopped enforcing the copyright laws? Some users don’t have proper documentation, i.e., a license to use materials subject to copyright.

    If we enforced the immigration laws, a lot of low-skilled Americans would have jobs that pay more money and local taxes would be lower.

    And Larry, when you argue that, without illegal labor, prices would be hire, the same logic applies to minimum wage laws. If there were no minimum wage laws, prices would be lower.

    • Thank you TMT. I have legal immigrants who paid a lot and busted their cans to be here. Illegal means just that: illegal. Goodbye. Why are we spending money on them? We have our own folks to worry about. I want to see our own minority populations having resources devoted to them to bring them up. Already information is coming out about the African American economic devastation. They are Americans. They’re first in line.

      • Well – if we are actually serious about it – ask why E-Verify is not mandated and employers who don’t do it don’t go to jail.

        What we have right now is the demonization of ordinary folks who are incentivized by “illegal” businesses hiring them.

        Canada has real laws about this and as a result not the problem.

        In this country – the businesses that want that cheap labor lobby the govt to not mandate E-Verify.

        • Larry,
          This is one of those rare issues that you and I agree on. We are long past the point where E-Verify should be mandated, with real penalties for employers who try to evade it. In my dreams, the larger the corporation, the stiffer the penalty.

          On a different note, even though I am a pro free enterprise type, the idea of for profit prisons gives me the willies. Considering that corporations are not above lobbying to enhance the value of their investments, how will we know that prison sentences are not at least partly motivated by private economic interests rather than justice.

          • Jail time for repeat E-Verify offenders. You’d be amazed how much more honest and rigorous financial reporting became when Sarbanes-Oaxley threatened to put corporate executives in prison.

          • I think like a lot of things – if the government sets the standards and enforces them – the private sector can do the job and usually more efficiently – but you gotta have the oversight and no judges can have a financial interest, etc.

        • I agree — either you want to enforce these laws or you don’t, but “wink, wink” enforcement brings out the worst of both worlds, along with all the capriciousness and hypocrisy we are seeing today.

          • I think it’s appalling that we go after the workers who big sin is they want a better life and not the employers who are using them not only to save money but to work to lower standards because the workers have to keep quiet. It’s a modern-day equivalent of indentured servants – but they never earn their freedom.

          • Nancy_Naive

            Back in the 90s there was a story of a plant in Georgia (Monsanto?) had 300 employees on one Social Security number.

          • Pretty sure undocumented are working at those meat packing plants… but they are apparently ICE “sanctuaries”.

        • I agree. Punishing employers who hire illegal aliens attacks the problem at its roots. Most of the people illegally crossing our borders or overstaying visas do so to obtain work.

          Cutting off their “work supply” will greatly reduce their numbers.

          With that said, a couple of things need to accompany this crack-down:

          1) It must be fairly enforced across the board. That means a large corporation which knowingly employs, say, a Brit in its finance department, who has overstayed his work visa needs to face the same sanctions as a landscaping contractor which employs a grass-cutter who crossed the border illegally to find a job.

          2) We need to implement a reasonable, efficient, workable and enforceable guest worker program which allows a certain number of non-citizens to legally work in the United States for limited periods of time..

          • I was ignorant of the fact that we actually used to have a Guest Worker program in this country……and got rid of it –

    • There is substantial disagreement among economists that immigrants are taking jobs away from native Americans. This article from the Cato Institute (of all places) summarizes some of those contending arguments and then comes to its own conclusion: Restricting immigration will not have a substantial positive impact on native wages, at least in real terms. https://www.cato.org/cato-journal/fall-2017/does-immigration-reduce-wages

      • There is but I’m not sure CATO is really tracking realities:

        ” First, some occupations like tomato harvesters could be automated such as they were in the late 1960s after the end of the bracero guest worker visa program”

        read about that guest worker program:

        ” Bracero Program
        The Bracero Program (1942-1964) was a temporary-worker importation agreement between the United States and Mexico. Initially created as an emergency procedure to alleviate wartime labor shortages, the 1942 program actually lasted until 1964, bringing approximately 4.5 million legal Mexican workers into the United States during its lifespan.[6]

        The Bracero Program expanded during the early 1950s, admitting more than 400,000 Mexican workers for temporary employment per year until 1959 when numbers began a steady decline.[6] While illegal immigration was a concern of both the United States and Mexico, the Bracero Program was seen as a partial solution to the upsurge of undocumented worker entries.[6]

        Under the program, total farm employment skyrocketed, domestic farm worker employment decreased, and the farm wage rate decreased.[1]

        Due in large part to the growing opposition by organized labor and welfare groups, the program came to an end in 1964.

  7. TMT – if the labor pool were smaller because of the removal of illegal labor – wouldn’t that tend to drive wages up overall including minimum wage?

    I note that right now, companies like Walmart and McDonalds already pay higher than minimum wages… so we’re talking about the kinds of jobs below these that you see a lot of undocumented folks do.

    There would be an immediate shortage of landscapers and roofers for instance!

    • We see a movement on the left to require a $15 minimum wage. Why?Because they believe wages below that are not enough to live reasonably well. Accepting that arguendo, if there were no illegal workers, supply and demand would force employers to pay more for labor. They would also automate where feasible. But on the whole, Americans with fewer skills and lesser education would see their incomes increase.

      It’s possible that some prices would increase. But there are also market pressures from competition that, in some instances, would force vendors to keep their prices and just earn less of a profit.

      And I remain in full agreement with you that E-Verify should be mandatory but both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are fighting that.

  8. I think I’ve said this before, but it would not surprise me if Steven Miller showed up at the WH Halloween party in an SS uniform… but only because his costume didn’t come back from the cleaners.

    • Or maybe Northam could take those Klan robes out of mothballs to attend the Plantation Elite Summer Social in Richmond.

      • Wasn’t the guy in sheets short? Sadly, he should have just owned up to it. There were half dozen movies that made gags of that at the time; “Silver Streak” and”Blazing Saddles” comes to mind.

        Nevertheless, if Miller were in Nuremberg, it wouldn’t have been as a witness.

  9. What began as an informative story ignored by the press did not delve into the reasoning behind the decision to move detainees from other parts of the country to Virginia finished as an attack on politicians who dared to enforce laws as written. Mr Galusza refers to “undocumented immigrants” as passively being brought in, without pointing out names of those who violated our immigration laws and who undoubtedly conspired to provide bogus documents to the Social Security Administration (identity theft) or illegally employed people off the books. He implies that there is something nefarious about the entity that built this private facility and profits by a continuing flow of people caught breaking our laws. Are there kickbacks to politicians? Which politicians do they donate to? If there are bad guys that he has unearthed in this story, tell us who they are and what they are doing. But please refrain feom name-calling of people who did their duty and promoted the safety of citizens by enforcing existing laws.

    • Agreed, an important story and one being missed elsewhere. Were those cases recently added into the state’s statistics? I wouldn’t think Farmville would be in the “Eastern” district and adding to the Hampton Roads uptick, but who knows? Side shots and commentary are part of the Bacon’s Rebellion experience, but I did note Peter was honest enough to report this kind of private detention program is a decade old (and thus started with Obama/Biden?) Any congregate living situation, including one without bars, is high risk and will be for a while.

      Just read a Pilot story about growing cases at Newport News Shipbuilding, which has been operating successfully for four months but has had a couple of hundred total cases (out of 22,000 employees, keep that in mind.) Leaders pointed to employees gathering at lunch (and pre-COVID that would be a very social occasion) and at the designated smoking areas! Many cases were outside contractors on the yard. But shipbuilders, unlike teachers, are essential workers so the yard will push on, I’m sure.

    • I regularly visit Mathews County where a lot of the work force commutes daily across the Coleman Bridge down to the Shipyard and surrounding commercial establishments. They are taking the covid threat seriously, not because it’s a problem in Mathews yet but because the Shipyard is leading the way mandating basic mask-wearing and distancing. That teaching example, and the serious threat to employment if the restrictions fail to work, has a real spill-over impact on the surrounding communities — even if, as you say, Steve, not everyone is toeing the line.

      • 30 cases reported at the Yard yesterday or maybe Monday or Friday. Tough to know for sure now that the SEVA papers are written in Chicago and printed in Richmond.

  10. LGABRIEL. I really didn’t want to get into the usual discussion about immigration, documented or undocumented since I’ve been doing that for years on this blog. I have been in the position of being a foreigner in another country and in my job, I had to deal with visas and permission for Americans and others. One of the problems with immigration here is that the process is very complicated, lengthy and infuriating. Most undocumented immigrants come here legally but overstay their visas. They find it too hard to deal with ICE or INS or whatever. Trump has made things much worse. .
    As far as Corey Stewart and Prince William, I think they are relevant because they helped set the anti-immigrant climate on which the Farmville facility thrived. It also goes back to George Allen and his ideas to privatize prisons and other things. I wasn’t here when he was in office but I have never thought much of the idea.

    • Prince William County was a declining dump long before the first illegal alien ever entered the place.

      • Well , they are a creation of NoVa – affordable housing for NoVa workers, no?

        • Yes, lots of affordable houses, not so many places to work. A bedroom community. Been that way since I moved here over 30 years ago. Nothing’s changed. I really don’t see me sticking around this place much longer than I have to.

          “Affordable” only in comparison to the rest of NoVa. Compared to other major metro areas located a similar distance from the city center, Prince William County housing prices are ridiculous. $300k for a poorly built dump of a townhouse and you still have 1+ hour commute. To a fulfilling job, likely, as a government contractor. Wow, what a life!

  11. It’s my understanding they moved folks from Arizona and Florida to Farmville, Virginia fairly recently. WHY??? It has been covered to some extent by the Farmville Herald but it has limited circulation in true central VA. Richmond media stops a county away now. True central Va has no TV coverage and no daily newspaper coverage.l It’s radio station is truly local, based in Farmville. This geographic area has become a news hole. None of the big guys claim it. Thus, it’s easy for things to happen that the rest of the state doesn’t hear about.

    • vaconsumeradvocate: The June 29 NPR article said, “In an email to WAMU, an ICE spokesperson said the transfer was done on June 2 to free up space in overcrowded facilities.”

      Farmville has a capacity of 690 beds.

  12. Peter, why didn’t you mention the Northam administration’s handling of outbreaks which hides the facility names except for nursing homes, assisted living and multi-care facilities under Long Term Care Facilities? Or that VDH had to be notified and so was aware of the outbreak and did nothing to stop the spread? (1 correctional outbreak reported on VDH dashboard June 10, another June 17.)

    NPR reported there were 3 cases from the 74 transferred on June 11, 49 cases of 412 detainees on June 29 after they learned about it from family members and attorneys for the detainees.
    https://www.npr.org/local/305/2020/06/29/884735646/cases-spike-at-virginia-i-c-e-detention-facility-after-transfers-from-c-o-v-i-d-19-hotspots

    Farmville would be in the correctional setting category, and is in the VDH Piedmont Health District which has had 6 correctional facility outbreaks (which may not all be under the DOC). Are they connected to Farmville by staff or suppliers in common? No way for a facility to investigate without at least knowing where the other outbreaks are.

    In the last two days, there were 13 new outbreaks, 2 in correctional facilities, and since June 1, 213 outbreaks, 17 in correctional settings. The only relative good news is there have only been 12 deaths total in correctional facilities out of 2,285 cases.

  13. Do Federal facilities report virus data to States?

  14. CBova. Why don’t you write about that? I am dealing with a private immigration prison and the Trump government, not state issues. Go go ahead and beat up on Northam. Not relevant here. PG

  15. CJBova

    https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/alien-depot-ramps-up/Content?oid=1366660

    I have been writing about the Farmville prison for years. It’s origins were under a Republican Gov. (McDonnell) and George W. Bush although I doubt Bush had much to do with it. The Trump connection is obvious. His ham-handed handling of immigration and the Covid 19 crisis have made everything much worse.

  16. I wonder how the detainees are moved such long distances…by air?

    Also was not surprised to hear that many of the detainees from less developed countries have not had the childhood vaccinations that we have and as a result, they have had prior outbreaks of things like mumps….

  17. This may be a side issue, but I am opposed to privately run prisons. There are certain things which are the duty of government, and in my opinion the operation of prisons/correctional facilities is one of them.

    • In “theory” – the government sets the standards and enforces them and the private sector carries them out more efficiently than the govt can.

      But prisons might be one of those that we just don’t do well privately.

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