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Detained Immigrants Sue ICA-Farmville for COVID-19 Response as Over 80% of Facility Tests Positive

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Posted: Jul. 22, 2020

For Immediate Release
July 22, 2020

Sirine Shebaya,, 202-656-4788
Jeff Jones, Legal Aid Justice Center,, 804-869-1040

Washington, DC —  Yesterday, four immigrants detained at ICA-Farmville, a private immigration detention facility located in Farmville, VA, filed a lawsuit in federal court against ICE and Farmville Detention Center because of the facility’s woefully inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs in the case, Christian Alberto Santos Garcia, Santos Salvador Bolanos Hernandez, Gerson Amilcar Perez Garcia, and Ismael Castillo Gutierrez, are represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), and Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC).

The plaintiffs in the case have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are still waiting for their test results, and they claim that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ICA-Farmville have jeopardized their health and recovery.

This lawsuit comes after ICE transferred 74 people, 51 of whom had COVID-19, from facilities with known COVID-19 cases in Arizona and Florida into ICA-Farmville in June. Since then, confirmed cases have exploded, now with over 80% of the facility’s population having tested positive for COVID-19. It is impossible to socially distance inside ICA-Farmville, so when COVID-19 first entered the facility, it spread uncontrollably.

The plaintiffs report harrowing conditions inside the detention center, with large numbers of people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 yet not being provided the most basic medical care. The plaintiffs have also been served expired, uncooked, or undercooked food and food infested with bugs. They claim that ICE and ICA-Farmville’s actions not only violate the Constitution but also violate ICE’s own standards for providing medical treatment and food services to detained people.

Plaintiff Christian Alberto Santos Garcia explains: “I believe that if the facility keeps being run in this way — no air conditioning, dust everywhere, dirty air, terrible food that we cannot eat, not being allowed doctor visits, not being given any medicine — I will not get better.”

Through this lawsuit, the plaintiffs are asking the court to issue an order for an independent health inspection of ICA-Farmville’s COVID-19 response, medical care plans, and policies surrounding provision of food to detained people. The plaintiffs are also asking the court to order ICE and ICA-Farmville to stop all transfers into and out of the facility, institute social distancing, and provide everyone detained with adequate personal protective equipment, soap, and hand sanitizer.

“ICE has recklessly continued to transfer people from facility to facility, becoming a super-spreader of COVID-19 in the process,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of NIPNLG. “Farmville accepted the transfer knowing they could not isolate incoming people or prevent spread of the disease to the rest of the facility. These actions have created a humanitarian crisis at Farmville, where ICE insists on continuing to detain people unnecessarily.”

“The Farmville Detention Center has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the country right now, and it was easily preventable,” said Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Legal Director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program at LAJC. “They created a protocol to try to keep COVID-19 out of Farmville. And then they proceeded to ignore it, when it mattered the most.”

“Our clients and their fellow detainees were exposed to and contracted COVID-19 — a potentially lethal virus — because of ICE and ICA-Farmville’s failure to live up to their obligations to care for and protect them,” said Naima Farrell of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “Defendants’ failure to act violated plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and caused a public health emergency that endangers everyone who lives and works in the facility, as well as the community at-large.”

While the measures that the lawsuit seeks may meet some of the urgent needs of detained people, immigrants at ICA-Farmville have consistently called for their release from the detention facility for months, as have community groups, public officials, and public health experts. Late last month, twenty-five organizations called for ICE to release all those detained at ICA-Farmville after ICA-Farmville used pepper spray against protests inside the facility. 

“The outbreak at ICA-Farmville is a human rights violation,” said Austin Rose from Sanctuary DMV. “The facility must be inspected and shut down before it’s too late.”

NIPNLG filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia along with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and the Legal Aid Justice Center. 


The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) 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. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Learn more at Follow NIPNLG on social media: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on Facebook, @NIPNLG on Twitter and Instagram.