Nearly a month ago, in Farmville, Virginia, there were 49 cases of coronavirus at the ICE detention center which holds adult males.
And now, according to agency statistics, out of the 360 immigrants in custody at ICE, there are 268 confirmed cases of Covid-19 currently under monitoring.
In a CNN report, a 39-year-old detainee tested positive for coronavirus in early July. He agreed to share his experience with the current situation at the facility and chose not to disclose his name. “We’re just stuck in here. We can’t do anything about it,”
“Some people are worried, sad because they worry about their families, they worry about being deported,” he added.
In the US, immigration detention facilities are holding more than 22,000 people. While ICE committed to releasing vulnerable immigrants and reducing its population, the coronavirus has continued to quickly spread across facilities, adding fear among those in custody.
On Tuesday, a complaint in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was filed by the National Immigration Project, Legal Aid Justice Center, and Gibson Dunn. “A humanitarian crisis is rapidly unfolding at Farmville Detention Center,” it says.
The number of confirmed cases in custody has gradually increased. In June, a government watchdog report emphasized the dramatic spike in cases among detainees in custody since the coronavirus outbreak, starting with one case on March 25 and increasing to 1,312 on May 26.
Based on agency statistics, there have been 3,736 confirmed Covid-19 cases in ICE custody. More than 16,000 detainees have been tested as of July 17.
At Farmville, lawyers attribute the rise in cases to an agency effort to transfer detainees to comply with social distancing.
74 detainees were transferred to the Farmville center from facilities in Arizona and Florida and quarantined in early June. They were eventually tested after three detainees had confirmed cases.
Of the 74 detainees transferred, 51 eventually tested positive for coronavirus. Up until then, the center had few to zero cases.
According to the filing, Lawyers say that the problem began when ICE proposed quarantining any new intakes at another Virginia location for 14 days before transferring them to Farmville. But that wasn’t possible for the transfers coming from facilities in Arizona and Florida.
Detainees said that despite measures to separate those with confirmed cases, intermingling continued, particularly with the staff members attending to those who are separated and then engaging with the general population.
In a statement released to CNN, ICE said it’s “ramped up its efforts to protect and care for detainees in its custody by providing face masks, procuring additional hand-washing stations and most recently, administering comprehensive testing of all detainees.”
“The majority of those who tested positive are asymptomatic, but are being closely monitored and receiving appropriate medical care,” ICE said, adding that medical checks are done twice daily, including a temperature check and medication disbursement. “Detainees who have tested negative will be retested and are being held separately from positive detainees”
But that’s still done little to curb the concerns of detainees in the facility.
ICE said it doesn’t intentionally move detainees who have tested positive for coronavirus between its detention facilities, but admitted there “have been some instances where positive cases have been transported by ICE.”
The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found in a June report that while “almost all facility personnel” across a slew of centers said they were prepared to address the virus, they still “expressed concerns if the pandemic continued to spread.”