News →

Bill Advances to Let State Inspect Immigrant Detention Facilities

ICE center aerial view
This aerial view shows the Immigration Centers of America facility Farmville on Wednesday Aug. 12, 2020 in Farmville, Va. A federal judge has ordered immigration authorities to halt any transfers into the Virginia detention center that has seen the worst coronavirus outbreak at any such facility in the nation. (Steve Helber/AP)

Virginia is home to two immigrant detention centers, one of which had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks of any federal immigrant detention center in the country. 

A bill that would allow the state to inspect those facilities to ensure they’re safe and responding to the pandemic appropriately is getting closer to becoming law. 

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax), makes locally-owned facilities that contract with the federal government to house Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, subject to some state oversight. 

Farmville and Caroline Detention centers are owned and run by the town of Farmville and Caroline County respectively. But the localities contract with ICE. 

“And because these contracts exist, the commonwealth has treated these facilities as outside of their jurisdiction, with respect to health and sanitation standards required of other local correctional facilities,” Boysko said Monday, during a meeting of the House Committee on Public Safety.  

The bill would allow the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails to set sanitation standards and review detainee deaths. Last month, a Canadian man who was transferred to Farmville in April died after testing positive for COVID-19. 

“We are six months into this pandemic,” Boysko said. "We are not seeing an end in sight. These facilities have demonstrated they are not able to manage the situation.”

There are about 20,000 people housed in ICE detention facilities across the country, and ICE reports that, as of last week, 572 people in custody had tested positive for the virus. There are nine confirmed cases at Caroline Detention Facility and 339 cases at Farmville. 

“These facilities will go down as a stain on our history, how we have treated individuals and what we are doing here on Virginia soil,” said Democratic Delegate Sam Rasoul of Roanoke before voting for the bill.  

Republicans on the committee voted against the bill. Opponents are worried about overstepping federal authority and the cost of additional inspections.  

A spokesperson for ICE said the agency does not respond to pending legislation.