Groups Call for Civil Rights Investigation, Termination of Ice Contract, and Releases Amid Human Rights Abuses at Virginia Immigrant Detention Center
“In America, you get incarcerated no matter what you do.” — Kon Kuac
BOWLING GREEN, VA. August 31, 2021 — Today, a group of 19 people detained at Caroline Detention Facility (Caroline) in Bowling Green, Virginia, filed a Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Complaint against the Department for Homeland Security (DHS), speaking out against physical and verbal abuse and racism, contaminated food and inadequate nutrition, denials of religious freedom, medical neglect and denial of disability accommodations, restrictions to phone access and mail access, solitary confinement in retaliation for organizing, unsanitary conditions and restrictions to hygiene, and COVID-19 negligence.
Given the history of abuses detailed in the complaint, Free Them All VA, along with partners Freedom for Immigrants and the National Immigration Project, urge that in addition to investigating the complaint, both Caroline and Farmville Detention Centers be shut down and everyone detained be released back to their families and communities.
In April 2021, multiple people detained at Caroline began courageously reporting medical neglect, anti-Black racism, and religious discrimination to the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) National Immigration Detention Hotline. In the following months, individuals inside Caroline organized themselves, urging their pod mates and friends to document their testimony through the FFI hotline to be included in the complaint, resulting in powerful testimonies of abuse faced inside Caroline.
In commemoration of Black August, a month-long celebration which honors Black freedom fighters who resist policing, incarceration, detention, and deportation and organize inside jails, prisons, and detention centers, Free Them All VA comes together with partners to uplift the voices of those detained at Caroline Detention Center and to amplify the stories and organizing of Black and Brown comrades experiencing medical neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and racism in detention in Virginia while fighting for liberation.
Filed by Freedom for Immigrants, Free Them All VA, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the complaint includes testimony of incidents of abuse from April through August of 2021, from seven named complainants and 12 complainants who chose to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation.
The named complainants include people from South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Jamaica, and Nigeria. Black migrants are disproportionately targeted by policing and incarceration by both the criminal legal and the immigration detention systems, and together with other complainants, report experiencing racism and xenophobia while detained.
Kon Kuac came to the U.S. as a young child with his family, fleeing violence in Sudan. During his time at Caroline Detention Center, Kon faced retaliation after he went on hunger strike in protest of the conditions at the facility. He was then held in torturous conditions including solitary confinement for two weeks and prison guards falsely accused him of inciting a riot. Kon was scheduled to be deported in July to South Sudan, a country that did not even exist when he arrived in the U.S. He received an emergency stay so his attorney could appeal his case, and he continues to be detained at Caroline. Free Them All VA is advocating for Kon’s immediate release while he waits for his liberation from carceral systems and return to his chosen community.
“I feel like I am being handed over to be executed. [It is] not fair that America, the land of the free and opportunity, is violating my rights as a human to choose where I want to live on earth. The earth is for any human.” — testimony of Kon Kuac
Paul White, another named complainant, is a Black bisexual migrant who has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and is currently held at Caroline Detention Center. While in ICE custody, Paul has suffered countless indignities and abuses at the hands of ICE officers. The ICE officers target him because he speaks out against their abuses. Paul has submitted several grievances internally within the Caroline Detention Facility, as well as an individual complaint to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and to the DHS Office of the Inspector General. Paul has also gone on hunger strike several times to protest his treatment while in detention. Paul has health issues, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and struggles with depression and anxiety. Free Them All VA and partners continue to advocate for his immediate release.
In addition to the stories of those detained in Caroline Detention Center, Free Them All VA is supporting those detained at ICA-Farmville, the other main immigration detention facility located in Virginia. Similar to the stories shared by complainants at Caroline, at ICA-Farmville there exists a pattern of medical neglect, racism, and retaliation directed at those detained for organizing.
Louis Patient Massing is a Black migrant from Cameroon who has lived in the U.S. for four years. As documented in this complaint jointly filed by Free Them All VA and Freedom for Immigrants on August 30, due to the government’s medical negligence, which resulted in the unchecked spread of COVID-19 inside ICA-Farmville Detention Center during the pandemic, Louis has since lost all hearing in one ear and is losing it in the other, and is now also losing his eyesight. Specialist doctors have told him that he needs specific medical devices to slow the deterioration of his hearing and eyesight, but ICE has refused to take him to follow-up appointments or allow him access to the doctor-recommended medical devices, meaning his remaining hearing continues to deteriorate and his eyesight continues to worsen. In over a year at Farmville, Louis has never had his behavior evaluated, which could lead to him being allowed to work. He considers this an instance of racism as others have been evaluated while he has been excluded. While in detention, many people continue to work to be able to afford basic necessities through a profit-driven commissary system and even save money to send to their families, despite making well below the minimum wage. Louis is caught at the intersection of racist policing, the unjust legal system, and immigration detention, all of which are steeped in anti-Blackness and xenophobia.
“Everything is put in place so that systematically we are discouraged by what is happening here and end up wanting to leave. These centers need to be closed. Not just for me, but for those who come after me as well.” — testimony of Louis Patient Massing
Incarceration is deeply rooted in racist and abusive systems of oppression and cannot be reformed. Detention centers in Virginia exist to profit from the continued abuse of community members and must be shut down, with everyone detained there released back to their communities.
We thank those both named and unnamed in this complaint and countless others who have risked and continue to risk their livelihood to protest the violence that is ICE detention.
Free Them All VA is an abolitionist coalition centered around amplifying the organizing of those incarcerated in Virginia detention centers, jails, and prisons. Our demand to free them all has no asterisk. All means all.
Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) is a national 501(c)3 nonprofit devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system.
The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NI PNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens.