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.