No, ICE won’t release detainees

No, detainees from Lunenburg County won’t be released, even if ICA Farmville closes. Multiple officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made that clear when The Dispatch reached out over the last week. We had asked because over and over, that has been something people have expected, feared and requested. That last part came due to all the speakers at the Farmville Town Council’s Wednesday, Feb. 14 meeting. Everyone who spoke in support of eliminating the contract also wanted all detainees released. 

Students from Longwood University, along with people representing multiple groups from all over the Commonwealth, came before the council asking them to do something that had already been decided: get rid of the town’s contract with ICA Farmville. Some condemned the council, accusing them of planning to renew the contract, a contract ICE is busy negotiating with another entity. Beyond that, they also asked for the town to shut down ICA Farmville, which the council doesn’t have authority to do, and for all the detainees to be released. 

First off, let’s talk about the contract. Yes, as we reported last week, Farmville’s contract with ICE and ICA Farmville ends on March 29. As the town council wants to step away from the contract, Prince Edward County supervisors are negotiating with ICE to take it over. 

“This council in September voted to pursue an avenue by which the Town of Farmville could extradite itself from an intergovernmental agreement (with) ICA Farmville,” Vincent told the crowd on Feb. 14. “That motion passed. Since then, there was an extension as ICA sought another agreement is not with us.” 

He’s referring to the negotiations with Prince Edward. Interestingly enough, the vote by Prince Edward supervisors did not involve ICA Farmville. It also doesn’t include ICA’s “sister” company, Abyon LLC, formed back in December by the same ownership group. Instead, the county staff will put together a request for proposals, inviting groups to bid on the detention contract. 

Vincent pointed out that Farmville doesn’t have any revenue from ICA planned for in their upcoming budget. In speaking with The Dispatch last week, Vincent said the town has not had negotiations with ICA this year nor does the council plan to. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO DETAINEES? 

So if they’re not being released, what will happen to detainees at ICA Farmville if the contract isn’t renewed?

“People’s freedom should not be something that we put a price on,” said Flora Lopez, one of the speakers at the Feb. 14 meeting. “We do not want that [facility] in our backyard. We do not want Virginia to be recognized as a state that allows these types of facilities to be here.” 

During her speech, she asked the council not just to reject the contract, but to work against ICE. 

“We want for people to be released,” Lopez said. “We want for everyone to be safe.”

When she mentioned safety, Lopez was referring to the multiple issues surrounding the facility. In 2020, at one point 93% of detainees tested positive for COVID-19. One of those detainees, 72-year-old Canadian national James Thomas Hill, died after catching the virus. Soon after, it was shut down until July 2022, when a settlement was reached, allowing the facility to reopen with some restrictions.

For the next two years, the center can hold no more than 180 people at one time. Since the facility’s reopened, multiple family members of those detained have come before council, saying conditions hurt their loved ones’ health. 

Other speakers condemned the council for taking so long to make this decision. 

ICE MAKES THEIR POSITION CLEAR

But when the current ICE contract expires on March 29, even if Prince Edward County decides not to take it on, that doesn’t mean detainees will be released. Even if the ICA Farmville facility shuts down, that simply means the detainees would be transferred.

As proof, they provided The Dispatch with the Detention Facility Termination of Agreement documents. First, the documents state any closure would have to be ordered either “by ICE or the agreement holder”, which in this case is the privately owned and operated ICA facility, not the town of Farmville.

Second, if the facility were to close, then ICE would “notify the DOCC of the number of noncitizens to be relocated so that it can begin coordinating transfers to other facilities,” the Termination of Agreement document states. DOCC in this case stands for Detention Operations Coordination Center.

In that situation, the only way for detainees to be released would be the same as it is now, the document said. Either a legal challenge through the court system or ICE officials could decide to let them go.

That is what family members and multiple groups from across the Commonwealth, such as the Free Them All Virginia Coalition and the Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center, are hoping for. They want ICE officials to make a choice and let the Farmville detainees go.

“If the facility were to terminate its contract with ICE, ICE could choose to release people currently detained there or transfer them to other facilities,” said ACLU-VA Immigrants’ Rights Attorney Sophia Gregg, speaking in an earlier interview with The Dispatch. “Our hope is that ICE would make individualized custody determinations of those remaining detained to ensure their continued detention is consistent with the administration’s enforcement priorities.”