Trump’s ICE Scandal in Farmville

By Peter Galuszka

In a remarkable display of incompetence, the Trump Administration this summer transferred dozens of undocumented aliens being held in detention centers in Arizona and Florida to a private prison in Farmville just so special federal tactical officers could beef up crowd control in Washington, D.C.

Consequently, some 300 inmates at the Farmville Detention Center operated by the privately held Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America contracted the COVID 19 virus and one died.

The action, reported this morning by The Washington Post, prompted U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to call for stricter oversight of the Farmville facility that operates under a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to hold undocumented aliens while their cases are being reviewed or while they await deportation.

Jennifer Boysko, a Democratic state senator, called for changes in state law to allow greater regulation of private prisons.

According to the Post, the Trump Administration wanted more protection from generally peaceful protests that were being held near the White House that called attention to police slayings of African Americans while in custody. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser declined to call for federal help.

One evening last June, Trump used federal agents to forcibly clear peaceful protesters on Lafayette Square so he could use a nearby church as a photo opportunity.

Despite protests from ICE’s headquarters, Trump’s people ordered ICE special response teams trained for crowd control and prison riots to Washington. The problem was that they could only fly chartered airplanes if they were transferring prisoners.

So, Trump’s people withdrew alien detainees from facilities in Arizona and Florida and flew them and the ICE officers to the Farmville area which is the closest ICE  facility to Washington. They did so even though there was plenty of room at the other detainment centers.

Mixing outsiders with Farmville’s inmates prompted a wave of COVID infections that afflicted from 80% to 90% of the Farmville prison population. The issue was so concerning that the Farmville City Council held special meetings about it in August.

I have been writing about the issues behind the private prison for 11 years. Some years ago, privatizing prisons and other essential state services became the rage among some state Republicans, including former Gov. George Allen. It seemed a way to make profits,

As I wrote in 2009 in Style Weekly:

“We’ll get a rate of $1 to $2 per day per detainee,” Farmville Town Manager Gerald J. Spates says, beaming. “So, that’s from $750 to $1,500 a day.” At the moment, illegal immigrants, at times as many as 400, are detained at the Piedmont Regional Jail, also in Farmville, which generates no revenues for the town.

It also may be a good deal for the Richmond businessmen behind the project, which includes Ken Newsome, president of AMF Bakery Systems and a Republican campaign contributor who’s backed former Gov. Jim Gilmore. The two other investors are Warren Coleman and Russell Harper of Harper Associates, a prominent local commercial real estate developer. Newsome, Coleman and Harper didn’t return phone calls seeking comment by Style’s press time.”

When the Farmville facility was proposed, Virginia was going through a wave of xenophobia and racism. Former Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart made a career of raising a fuss about the many, mostly Hispanic newcomers in his county.

Some of the immigrants were recruited to help in the home building boom in Northern Virginia in the mid-2000s, but when the real estate crash happened in 2008 and 2009, a number of white residents no longer wanted them around. Some of undocumented since they had overstayed their visas and hauling them in became a new sport. Trump has made great use of the practice.

I wrote about the most recent issue in Bacon’s Rebellion about a month and a half ago.

In any event, this is a cautionary tale and shows just what ugly places Virginia and Trump’s America have become.