ICE-Detention-Center Farmville Detention Center
Image via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE)

Detained immigrants beg to be released from ICE detention centers throughout the country as virus cases rise. 

While shelter-in-place mandates took over the country during April and May, undocumented detainees continued to get transferred throughout Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers all over the country, carrying and spreading COVID-19 with them. 

The Farmville Detention Center located in Farmville, Virginia, just west of Richmond, has 289 COVID-19 cases inside the facility according to ICE numbers, roughly 75% of the detainees. reports that the Farmville Detention Center currently has 289 COVID-19 cases inside their facility, but just a month ago, there were only 49 cases. Overall, ICE has reported 3,868 detainees testing positive for COVID-19 throughout its facilities during the pandemic, with 963 currently in isolation or under monitoring.

The CAIR Coalition‘s Immigration Impact Lab has been in contact with undocumented immigrants inside the Farmville Detention Center — which is owned by Immigration Centers of America (ICA), a private company — and report the situation there is dire. In 2019, the National Immigrant Justice Center reported that ICA has made millions from contracts with ICE. The Farmville Detention Center also has several claims of abuse.

The Immigration Impact Lab reports that detainees sleep in close quarters, including several bunk beds in a room, and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). In June, Latino lawmakers reported similar findings inside detention centers in Texas

“We’ve had at least one client that has been hospitalized,” Adina Appelbaum, Program Director at Immigration Impact Lab, said in an interview with The Americano. “We’ve heard of several clients that are really sick and not receiving any medical treatment aside from some Tylenol. A lot of people are complaining about inadequate medical treatment. There’s also been a practice that includes throwing people in medical isolation that is essentially solitary confinement with another person that is also very sick.” 

“People are feeling like they were brought there to die,” Appelbaum says, noting that sick detainees are not receiving sufficient medical attention.

“One client told us that they put another person inside their isolation unit and that they were so sick she was banging on the door for 60 to 90 minutes, crying for help and no one came,” she says. “Another client told us something similar, saying that they were screaming for help, and no one came to help him.” 

How did it spread so quickly?

ICE detention centers already had deteriorating facilities before the pandemic began. Undocumented immigrants have previously reported not being able to practice good hygiene because officers inside don’t give them the essentials to stay clean. On top of that, ICE continued to transport undocumented immigrants, which spread the virus between detention centers, and also infecting 45 employees at ICE detention facilities.

A special report by the New York Times in collaboration with The Marshall Project shows that ICE conducted 750 domestic flights with undocumented immigrants on board, some of which had COVID-19. The report also tracked over 200 deportation flights carrying migrants, some of them ill with coronavirus, to other countries between March and June.

Several organizations, including RAICES and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are working to free detained immigrants, including children, for wrongful detainment and prevent the spread of the coronavirus inside detention centers.