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Lawsuit Over Release of Immigrant Detainees in Virginia Moves Forward

Advocates for prison and jail inmates turn their cars into protest signs.
Advocates for prison and jail inmates turned their cars into protest signs Friday outside the Richmond City Jail. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

A hearing is scheduled for next Friday in a federal lawsuit demanding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release prisoners from two immigration detention centers in Virginia. 

Immigrant rights groups filed a lawsuit last week against ICE on behalf of nine inmates detained at Farmville Detention Center and Caroline Detention Facility. All nine are at least 60 years old or have underlying health conditions putting them at higher risk of death if they contract COVID-19. On Monday, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and other groups behind the complaint asked the court to make an emergency decision to release the prisoners. 

“There is really no way to protect people with any measures as long as they’re still in a detention center in a crowded environment sharing spaces and sleeping and eating with others,” said Adina Appelbaum, an attorney with the CAIR Coalition. “Because it is impossible to socially distance in a jail setting.”

Nationally there are about 90 confirmed cases of coronavirus in ICE detention centers. Appelbaum said some detainees at the Virginia facilities have exhibited symptoms associated with COVID-19. 

“It’s really important that the court acts urgently on this matter given that people’s lives are on the line,” she said. 

In a statement on its website, ICE said it has released hundreds of detainees. 

“ICE has since evaluated its detained population based upon the CDC’s guidance for people who might be at higher risk for severe illness as a result of COVID-19 to determine whether continued detention was appropriate,” the statement said. “Of this population, ICE has released nearly 700 individuals after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns.”

None of the individuals named in the lawsuit have been released. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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