Canadian held at Virginia immigration detention center dies

Migrant Centers

Farmville ICE Detention Center located in Farmville, Virginia. (Photo: Paul Caffrey/ICE via DVIDS)

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include information released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on its website. In a news release issued Friday, ICE identified the man as James Thomas Hill, 72. After reporting shortness of breath on July 10, facility staff at the Farmville ICE Detention Center admitted him to Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville, Va. He was transferred the following day to Lynchburg (Va.) General Hospital, where he tested positive for the coronavirus. Hospital medical staff pronounced him dead at 11:42 p.m. Wednesday.

Hill was taken in ICE custody April 15 following his release from the Rivers Federal Correctional Institute in Winton, N.C. He served more than 13 years of a 26-year prison sentence for fraud and distributing a controlled substance. An immigration judge ordered his removal May 12. As an “aggravated felon,” the ICE release said, Hill was subject to mandatory detention by ICE under federal law. At the time of his death, Hill was in ICE custody pending removal to Canada.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A 72-year-old Canadian man has died while in custody at an immigration detention center in Virginia that was the site of the largest coronavirus outbreak at a U.S. immigration facility, a federal official said.

Kaitlyn Pote, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the man died on Wednesday night in a Virginia hospital, but no more information was immediately available, including whether the death was COVID-related, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Friday.

As of Aug. 6, there were 298 detainees at the center and 290 total detainees had tested positive. Currently, ICE says on its website that 259 confirmed cases are being monitored at the detention facility, which is owned by Immigration Centers of America.

Farmville ICE Detention Center located in Farmville, Virginia. (Photo: Paul Caffrey/ICE via DVIDS)

In late July, The Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper, reported the man’s family said he was hospitalized in critical condition after contracting COVID-19. The newspaper also reported the man began having a high fever and breathing problems in the days before he was scheduled to be on a deportation flight to Canada.

“This is exactly what we’ve been trying to prevent,” said Luis Oyola, community organizer for Legal Aid Justice Center. “And since before there was a single confirmed case in Farmville. We put this on ICE. We put this on ICA and we put this on the state government for sitting and watching it all unfold and not taking decisive action.”

Alena Yarmosky, spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam, said in a statement that the state isn’t able to enter the detention center without permission from the facility but that the governor has “pushed for months” to gain access to increase testing and disease management. The statement also said the Virginia Department of Health has repeatedly tried to assist with testing but was denied.

“Only last week, after the Governor went directly to the President for assistance, did the CDC agree to intervene for widespread testing,” Yarmosky said. “Everyone deserves protection from this virus, no matter their immigration status.”

Virginia Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah, D-Fairfax, called on Northam to shut down the immigrant detention center in Farmville in a statement Friday, saying that “the worst fears of advocates and the families of those detained have been realized.”

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