People Detained at ICA-Farmville Go on Hunger Strike After Guards Confiscated Their Personal Belongings Without Cause
Farmville, Virginia. March 21, 2022 — Last week, people detained at ICA-Farmville, a private ICE jail run by Immigrant Centers of America (ICA), went on hunger strike after guards confiscated their personal belongings with no warning. The guards suddenly began enforcing a policy, which they claim was instituted by the director of ICA-Farmville Jeffrey Crawford, limiting detained persons’ belongings to only what can fit in a plastic container the size of a shoe box. People detained at the facility report that guards are putting many of their belongings into trash bags, including clothes for keeping warm in the often frigid facility. Guards have also confiscated food and toiletries that people in detention purchased from the jail commissary, in addition to their books and legal papers.
One person detained at Farmville, Herson,* recently had severe food poisoning from eating spoiled fish provided by the detention center, and since then has been relying on food purchased from the commissary. Guards enforcing the confiscation policy threw away his commissary food on Wednesday, March 16th.
People detained at ICA-Farmville are denied access to clean clothes, and instead are given old, dirty clothes that have been worn by people who were previously detained at the detention center. Purchasing food and clothes from the commissary, despite limited options and inflated prices, is one of the few ways for people to get access to clean clothes and food that isn’t spoiled.
Speaking on behalf of the hunger strikers, Herson says that people inside are demanding to be treated with dignity and to end the discrimination against migrant people. They demand that guards return their belongings immediately.
Herson adds, “They mistreat us, they tell us that even if we call our lawyers, they are not going to do anything. They do what they want, they abuse us. Everything is dirty, we don’t have new clothes, they just give us dirty and old clothes.”
ICA-Farmville has a history of hunger and meal strikes in response to abuse and medical neglect. In fact, two years ago, 100 people detained at the facility staged a hunger strike due to concerns about a COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. Strikers were met with retaliation. In 2019, people inside organized a meal strike after a mumps outbreak led to a quarantine and restricted freedoms. Guards cracked down on the protesters, using pepper spray and putting some into solitary confinement. Similarly, in 2015 and 2017, ICE reported numerous instances of force being used against detained persons at Farmville, including one instance ICE itself said was “inappropriate and unnecessary.” Hunger strikes and additional retaliatory force followed.
In the summer of 2020, Farmville was responsible for one of the largest detention-setting COVID-19 outbreaks in the country, infecting over 300 people and taking the life of James Hill. In light of evidence that mass transfers of detained persons into Farmville from out of state exacerbated the outbreak, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an injunction banning ICE from transferring people into Farmville. The injunction has remained in place since August 2020. Due to the injunction, ICA-Farmville currently detains only 9 people. However, because their contract with ICE includes a guaranteed minimum, they still get paid $120 per person per day for 500 people — close to $2 million a month.
In December 2021, more than 100 organizations sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calling out years of mismanagement and medical neglect at Farmville and demanding DHS close the facility.
“It is long past time to close Farmville and free everyone detained there,” says Margaret Evans of Free Them All VA. “This arbitrary confiscation of property is the latest example of abuse and neglect at Farmville over the last several years. Small reforms are not enough; closing the facility is the only answer.”
*Name has been changed
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.
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