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Immigrants Say COVID-19 Risk High at Virginia Detention Centers

Sun over prison fence
Immigrant rights groups say that conditions in detention centers are putting detainees at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Immigrant rights groups expect a ruling from a federal judge any day now that could decide the fate of six medically vulnerable immigrant detainees at two Virginia facilities. The groups say people there are at risk of contracting COVID-19.

An attorney for the detainees told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady on Friday that guards at these facilities continue to come in and out of the facilities and inconsistently wear masks and gloves. They added detainees continue to be transferred in from places with COVID-19 outbreaks like New York.

Twenty-nine-year-old Marci Iraheta was released on bond from Caroline County Detention Center about two weeks ago, one of the two facilities named in this case.

“Someone who was in charge of us told us we had to keep our distance from each other,” Iraheta said. “Which is something that can’t easily be done because it’s a lot of people and it’s a very small space." Iraheta is originally from Honduras and is living in Charlottesville, where he is now able to quarantine with his 11-year-old daughter.

Two cases have been reported at Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green.

The other facility named in the lawsuit is Farmville Detention Center. Tomas Romas was released from there earlier this month. Romas said he shared a room with about 70 other detainees and there was no way to socially distance.  

 “They came and told us we had to sleep one meter apart. That was impossible. There, the beds are about 15 to 20 centimeters apart.”

He said there were five showers, five toilets, and two tables, for all 70 people.

“The cleaning was as usual. There was no difference because of the coronavirus,’ he said. “This is why many people protested and wanted to get out on bond or with an ankle bracelet. It’s hard being in there, all of us together.”

An attorney for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the judge detainees who are ill are in isolation and transfers are not exposed to the general population for 14 days.

Just last week in a similar case, a federal judge in California ordered immigration officials to track detainees who are at high risk for complications due to COVID-19 and consider releasing them. 

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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