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ICE contract in Farmville uncertain as activists call for facility's closure

The Farmville Detention Center
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
The Farmville Detention Center. Activists are calling for the facility's closure.

Federal officials were not able to immediately clarify the state of the contract on Friday afternoon.

Activists are calling for the closure of a privately run immigration detention facility in Farmville, amid allegations of rights abuses. They’re urging the town’s leaders to let the facility’s federal contract expire Sept. 15, although there’s debate about what that deadline will bring.

Critics of the Immigration Centers of America – Farmville allege it has a track record of overcrowding, abuse and mismanagement. That includes a 2020 COVID-19 outbreak that killed one Canadian man and sparked a legal settlement barring the facility from holding more than 180 detainees. A 2017 internal ICE inspection documented repeated hunger strikes, inappropriate use of force and allegations of sexual assault or abuse.

The National Immigration Project and several other immigrant rights groups believe Farmville’s contract with ICE is set to expire Sept. 15. But Farmville Mayor Brian Vincent told VPM News it’s his understanding that the facility will continue operating without any action from the town or ICE.

Documentation provided by ICE and activists doesn’t provide a simple answer on who is right. The facility’s 2008 contract was renewed in September 2013 and lasted through September 2018. The rights groups say that contract was presumably extended another five years through Sept. 15, 2023. But the contract on ICE’s website doesn’t include that extension. It does list other contract modifications, including changes to workers’ salaries and the rate the federal government pays the town per detainee, which are set to expire Sept. 15.

Representatives for ICE were not able to immediately clarify the state of the contract on Friday afternoon.

Farmville bills ICE an average of more than $2 million monthly to host the facility, according to documents obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center. But most of the money goes to the facility’s private operator rather than Farmville; the town’s 2022 budget included $200,000 from ICE.

ICE guarantees funding for at least 500 detainees in Farmville; there were 58 held at the facility as of Aug. 7.

“Nearly all of the money is going to this private corporation that has really no incentive to treat people well,” Amber Qureshi, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Project.

Representatives for ICA-Farmville did not respond to emails requesting comment by deadline.

Some localities and states — including neighboring Maryland — are reconsidering agreements with ICE and private detention facilities. But Vincent, the Farmville mayor, said immigration reform is an issue that needed to be fixed “from the top.”

“If you want the solutions to the private prison industrial complex, or the immigration itself, badgering localities like us doesn't get you there,” Vincent said.

In an email, ICE spokesperson James Covington didn’t directly address whether it would maintain its relationship with ICA-Farmville.

“ICE takes its commitment to promoting safe, secure, humane environments for those in our custody very seriously,” Covington wrote.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.