As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage in the United States, prisoners and detainees are at heightened risk. This is not new information: In the early stages of the outbreak, a California federal judge ordered ICE to release vulnerable detainees. Sadly, unheeded warnings have caused irreparable harm, with many infections and even COVID-19 deaths in ICE custody.
On July 19th, The Daily Beast published an important story on how ICE’s attempts to dodge a federal judge’s order triggered a severe COVID-19 outbreak in a privately run immigration detention facility in Virginia. It is a heartbreaking and infuriating account of how federal immigration officials and a private prison company disregarded the health and safety.
Ignoring CDC Guidance, ICE Transferred Detainees Between Facilities
In Arizona, a federal judge ordered some detainees released from an ICE facility because of the safety threat posed by COVID-19. However, instead of releasing the migrants into a safe location, ICE decided to transfer them (and dozens of other people) to a small, privately run detention center in Farmville, Virginia. Detainees in Florida were also transferred to the Virginia facility under similar circumstances. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly warned against these types of cross-state transfers.
Employees Sounded the Alarm—But Management Ignored the Warnings
While transferring detainees around the country during the COVID-19 outbreak is always ill-advised, it was shockingly reckless and irresponsible in this case. The Farmville, VA facility was not equipped to handle these transfers. Due to the relatively modest size of the Farmville facility, transferees did not undergo the standard 14-day quarantine nor was true social distancing possible.
Employees warned their supervisors that they were risking a public health disaster. Yet, the private prison company approved the ICE request anyway. As an anonymous employee explained to The Daily Beast, “it’s all about profit.” Government records indicate that the company gets around $120 per detainee per day.
Horrific COVID-19 Outbreak: Nearly 90 Percent of Detainees Tested Positive
The tragic and foreseeable consequence of ICE detainee transfers was a huge COVID-19 outbreak. As reported by WRIC 8 News, more than 80 percent of the detainees at the ICE Detention Center in Farmville, Virginia tested positive for the virus in the days and weeks after people were transferred from Arizona and Florida. In total, ICE reports that 315 people have tested positive for the virus at Farmville. Only 359 detainees are being held there. It is one of the worst outbreaks in any single facility in the entire world.
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