COVID-19 outbreaks in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers have continued to grow with alarming speed. In Farmville, a Virginia ICE detention center, all those held at the facility were tested for COVID-19 after a number of new detainees tested positive for the virus. Of the 366 people being held at Farmville, only 19 tested negative for COVID-19, while 276 people tested positive for the virus. A further 80 detainees are still awaiting their results and 22 employees have also tested positive.
The outbreak in Farmville seems to have originated when ICE moved 74 detainees from Florida and Arizona to Farmville without first quarantining them due to lack of space. Of those new detainees, 51 tested positive for COVID-19, and one person required hospitalization.
The full-facility test was not conducted until July 2, although the new COVID-19 positive detainees arrived at the facility a month earlier. Those being held at the facility began holding what they described as peaceful protests to demand further protection from COVID-19, such as more social distancing measures and further medical care for those experiencing symptoms.
However, their protests were met with a violent response, with employees on two occasions utilizing pepper spray and firing a “noise-distracting round” in order to dispel them. Some of those involved in the protests were confined to cells in groups of three, even though the cells were only designed for two detainees. This made social distancing impossible to maintain.
Although ICE claims that “the health, welfare and safety of … detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities,” those detained at the facility have described conditions in which social distancing has become almost impossible and those with COVID-19 symptoms are only given Tylenol. A report on ICE facilities by the Inspector General found that “facilities reported concerns with their inability to practice social distancing among detainees, and to isolate or quarantine individuals who may be infected with COVID-19.”
Three people detained by ICE have died from COVID-19 and ICE reports a total of 3,496 cases across their facilities. The deteriorating conditions caused a federal judge to order ICE to release all children held in their custody in order to protect them from the virus.
ICE has defended its actions, stating that “the agency has taken steps to protect detainees in its custody and promote social distancing whenever possible.” The agency reports that “medical checks are done twice daily, including a temperature screening and medication disbursement. Every detainee who needs medical attention is being seen. ”
However, those held at the facility tell a different story and describe fearing for their lives. When asked about the conditions he was experiencing, one detainee, using the pseudonym Bobby, called them “inhumane. You don’t treat humans like this. You don’t treat dogs like this. They don’t care if you die.”
Sources: Daily Beast 7/14/20; Daily Beast 6/30/20; CNN 6/27/20; Center for American Progress 6/16/20; CNN 6/27/20; DCist 6/29/20