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On July 14, the Farmville Town Council in Virginia held an open public hearing, and heard testimony from people currently detained in the privately operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center located in the town. NIJC’s Senior Policy Analyst Jesse Franzblau has been supporting efforts to shut down immigration detention centers and oppose ICE expansion in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia metro area, and delivered the following statement to the Farmville mayor and town council members.

My name is Jesse Franzblau; I am a Senior Policy Analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). On behalf of my colleagues, and the thousands of individuals NIJC serves every year, I would like to express our strong support for the Virginia communities requesting the Farmville Town Council end its complicity in the inhumane immigration detention system, cut its ties with the private detention company Immigration Centers of America (ICA), and terminate its Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE.

For over three decades, NIJC has dedicated itself to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. NIJC provides direct legal services to more than 10,000 low-income individuals each year and advocates for these populations through policy reform, impact litigation, and public education. NIJC also monitors and documents abuses in the federal immigration detention system.

ICE’s detention system is overwhelmingly outsourced to for-profit prison companies such as ICA. ICE and its contractors are notorious for subjecting people to inhumane conditions; sexual assault, violent abuse, medical neglect, unsanitary conditions, and lockdowns are commonplace in ICE jails. ICE detention furthers punitive systems of incarceration and enforcement that perpetuate racism against Black and Brown immigrants. The federal government should permit people to pursue their immigration cases from the safety of their homes and communities, not in detention.

The detention center in Farmville has a dark history of abuse and impunity, including medical neglect, indiscriminate use of pepper spray, fotten food with worms, threats and retaliation against people protesting inhumane conditions. In October 2011, Anibal Ramirez-Ramirez, a Salvadoran national, died five days after being processed in the facility. The inspection that preceded Mr. Ramirez-Ramirez’s death indicated that ICE was aware of deficiencies regarding medical care. In August 2020, ICE announced the death of James Hill, a Canadian man who died in ICA-Farmville after ICE recklessly transferred people to the facility from around the country and caused the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in ICE detention at that time. Still, today, more than 900 of the more than 27,000 people still detained by ICE have COVID-19.

In spite of a long record of atrocity, the company ICA has aggressively pursued ICE contracts in efforts to expand to new states. It has paid lobbyists in efforts to sell its brand as safe and humane, trying to convince towns to take on immigration detention facilities so they can expand their profits. To date, they have been rejected everywhere but Farmville.

The type of contract arrangement that Farmville has with ICE operates as a “pass-through,” where Farmville essentially acts as a middleman for ICE and ICA. Such agreements often side-step procurement laws that govern federal contracts with private companies. In this arrangement, counties or municipalities hosting the detention centers then receive kick-back funds from the private companies, which take in the major share of the profits. Under the town’s agreement with ICE, Farmville collects around $240,000 a year to act as the intermediary between ICE and ICA, which takes in around $24 million a year to operate the detention center. Ending your IGSA with ICE will prevent ICA from continuing to exploit the Town of Farmville in order to maximize their profits at the expense of human rights.

The lack of oversight over the immigration detention system has deadly consequences. Between January 2017 and April 2020, 39 adults died in ICE custody or immediately after being released. The number of people who died in ICE custody in 2020 was more than double the prior year. A study of ICE deaths between 2011 and 2018 found that the agency violated its own medical standards in 78% of cases. At least three people have died in detention since President Biden took office.

In terminating your agreement with ICE and ICA, Farmville would be following a growing trend in which local governments are asserting that ICE cannot detain people in their backyards. Maryland passed statewide legislation to end their detention agreements with ICE earlier this year. In New Jersey, Essex County voted to end their agreement with ICE. York County, Pennsylvania, announced it will end its detention contract with ICE. State legislatures in Illinois, California, Washington, and elsewhere have also passed laws banning ICE detention. As the nation and world becomes more vigilant about the systematic human rights violations that occur in ICE detention, the spotlight is on Farmville to end your complicity in such abuses.

Jesse Franzblau is a senior policy analyst at NIJC.