RICHMOND — A 72-year-old Canadian in custody at an immigration detention center in Farmville — the site of the largest coronavirus outbreak in a U.S. immigration facility — has died.
ICE spokeswoman Kaitlyn Pote said the 72-year-old died Wednesday night in a Virginia hospital but said more information is not available at this time, including whether the death was COVID-related.
In late July, The Globe and Mail, a Canadian news outlet, reported that the family of the man said he was hospitalized and in critical condition after contracting COVID-19. The outlet also reported the man began having a high fever and breathing problems in the days before his flight back to Canada.
As of Aug. 6, there were 298 detainees at the center — owned by Immigration Centers of America — and 290 total detainees had tested positive. Currently, there are 225 confirmed cases being monitored at the detention facility, according to the ICE website.
“This is exactly what we’ve been trying to prevent,” said Luis Oyola, community organizer for Legal Aid Justice Center. “And since before there was a single confirmed case in Farmville. We put this on ICE. We put this on ICA and we put this on the state government for sitting and watching it all unfold and not taking decisive action.”
Alena Yarmosky, spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam, said in a statement that the state isn’t able to enter the detention center without permission from the facility but that the governor has “pushed for months to gain access for increase testing and disease management.” The statement also said the Virginia Department of Health has repeatedly tried to assist with testing but was denied.
“Only last week, after the Governor went directly to the President for assistance, did the CDC agree to intervene for widespread testing,” said Yarmosky. “Everyone deserves protection from this virus, no matter their immigration status.”
Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Fairfax, called on Northam to shut down the immigrant detention center in Farmville in a statement Friday, saying that “the worst fears of advocates and the families of those detained have been realized.”
The statement refers to more than five letters written since March expressing concern about the facility’s conditions and health risks.
“I’m beyond outraged,” said Samirah. “We must continue fighting to release everyone currently held at ICA-Farmville. As a health care professional, I know that this private facility is in clear violation of the health and safety standards of the Commonwealth.”
Lawyers and immigration advocates said the surge in cases occurred after ICE transferred detainees from Arizona and Florida, a COVID-19 hotspot, without quarantining. Of the 74 detainees transferred, 51 tested positive for COVID-19.
On July 22, The National Immigration Project and Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit against ICE calling the outbreak at ICA-Farmville a “human rights violation.”
In a statement then, Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at LAJC, called the outbreak preventable.
“They created a protocol to try to keep COVID-19 out of Farmville,” Moshenberg said. “And then they proceeded to ignore it, when it mattered most.”
Last week, ICE told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the facility “has ramped up its efforts to protect and care for detainees in its custody by providing face masks, procuring additional handwashing stations and most recently, administering comprehensive testing of all detainees.”
The agency added that medical checks and temperature screenings are done twice a day.
Testing was offered to all detainees from July 1 to 3 and out of 22,000 detainees across the U.S., there are currently 941 positive cases. Almost 4,000 nationwide, at one point, tested positive.
Staff writer Frank Green contributed to this report.
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