On August 9th, the Farmville Town Council in Virginia held a public hearing, and heard testimony from people expressing opposition to the privately operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center located in the town. NIJC supports efforts to shut down immigration detention centers and halt ICE expansion in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland-Virginia metro area. Senior Policy Analyst Jesse Franzblau 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 calling on the Farmville Town Council to end its complicity in the inhumane immigration detention system, cut its ties with the private detention company Immigration Centers of America (ICA), and end its Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with ICE. The Town should consider steps toward a just transition away from incarceration and toward a sustainable economy, and make the historic decision not to renew its contract with ICE next month.
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 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, as well as sexual assault, violent abuse, medical neglect, retaliation and punitive use of solitary confinement. ICE detention furthers punitive systems of incarceration and enforcement that perpetuate racism against Black and Brown immigrants. The system is exorbitantly wasteful: ICE shells out billions to private contractors in an unfair and unaccountable revolving door system. There is simply no reason for the federal government to waste millions to detain people when they are far better off pursuing 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, rotten food, threats and retaliation against people protesting inhumane conditions. In August 2020, members of Congress wrote a letter to Russell Harper, CEO of ICA, expressing concerns about the inhumane conditions and use of pepper spray in ICA-Farmville, and demanding answers about what the company was doing to keep people detained safe during the pandemic. The same day the letter was sent, ICE announced the death of James Hill, a Canadian man who died in ICA-Farmville after the facility became the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in ICE detention at that time.
In spite of this long record of abuse, the company ICA has aggressively pursued ICE contracts in efforts to expand to new states. It has paid lobbyists in efforts to try to convince towns to take on immigration detention facilities so they can expand their profits. To date, they have been rejected everywhere but Farmville.
Over the years, the company ICA has relied on the Farmville detention center for its profits. The company brings in around $24 million a year to operate the detention center. The Town only collects around $240,000 a year to act as the intermediary between ICE and ICA. The company also brings in millions for transportation and other services. The CEO of ICA also runs a real estate development, investment and management company, and is pushing for the zoning project being discussed today. Immigration detention should not be treated as an industry to line corporate pockets at the expense of human rights and dignity.
Ending your IGSA with ICE will prevent ICA from continuing to get rich from exploiting the Town of Farmville in order to maximize their profits. 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. State legislatures in Illinois, California, Washington, and elsewhere have also passed laws banning ICE detention.
From 1959 to 1964, the Farmville area became internationally known for opposing racial integration, shutting down its white-only school system rather than accept civil rights progress. Today, the Town Council can be on the right side of history by moving away from profiting from the incarceration of migrants. 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.