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Activists protest virus response at ICE detention center

Dozens of activists gathered outside the Immigration Centers of America (ICA) Farmville detention facility Saturday afternoon, July 25, to protest U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ICA Farmville’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In early June, ICE transferred 74 detainees from detention centers in Arizona and Florida to ICA Farmville. By June 22, 47 people from the group of transfers tested positive for COVID-19.

By July 14, 268 of ICA Farmville’s 360 detainees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Protesters arrived at the detention center in Farmville at 2 p.m. to find the entrance to the facility gated and guarded. Demonstrators stood outside the gates holding signs, chanting and calling for change.

Luis Oyola with the Legal Aid Justice Center, a nonprofit that provides legal aid and advocacy for low income individuals, was at the demonstration Saturday. He said the center has been at odds with ICA Farmville since before the detention facility was built.

“We were also involved in denouncing the treatment of inmates back during last summer when Farmville had a mumps outbreak and guards attacked inmates who were protesting the conditions via hunger strike,” Oyola commented. “Since before there was a single case of COVID-19 within Farmville we have been demanding that Governor (Ralph) Northam use his emergency powers to inspect the facility for proper health conditions, and so four of five months later, here we are.”

Brenda Pereria, a Longwood graduate, travelled all the way down from Northern Virginia to attend the protest. She was one of the individuals who helped arrange the event via Facebook.

Pereria said she was initially unaware of much of the controversy surrounding ICA Farmville over the years, including the transfer of those 74 detainees back in June. Tuesday, she said if the facility wants to profit off detained immigrants, officials must be held accountable for inmates’ rights to health.

“Regardless of their legal status, they deserve to be treated as humans, and health is a human right,” she said. “People aren’t necessarily criminals just because they’re undocumented. Most of them were here seeking asylum, waiting for their court date. They deserve to be treated with the same respect any other human should be treated with. They’re going through this in confined spaces during a global pandemic. It just isn’t humane, and it shouldn’t be the legacy of Americans, and we shouldn’t be okay with it.”

Megan Garrett, another resident who helped to organize the demonstration, said via the group’s Facebook page that Saturday’s protest would not be the last.

Wednesday, July 22, an ICA Farmville spokesperson said 27 of the facility’s 230 staff members have also tested positive for the virus since the pandemic.

Saturday, ICE’s COVID-19 data webpage listed ICA Farmville as having 261 coronavirus-positive detainees currently under isolation or monitoring. The facility was also listed Saturday as having total of 289 COVID-19 cases since testing began in February, although the figure sat at 315 only a few days prior. A note associated with the figure stated “some detainees may no longer be in ICE custody or may have since tested negative for the virus.”