COVID-19 Should Not Become a Tool for Releasing Detained Immigrants

An investigator is calling for the release of “high-risk” detainees at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia after more than 80 percent of the center’s 300 inmates contracted the coronavirus earlier this year.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered an inspection of the facility by two investigators in a response to a lawsuit by inmates over coronavirus conditions.

The outside investigator, Dr. Homer Venters, a former medical officer for New York City jails, inspected the detention center last month and released his report on Friday, September 4, citing poor screenings for COVID-19 symptoms. He claims that high-risk detainees face significant health risks as the center’s response is often “slow.” He also claims that the outbreak was a result of transfers from other facilities facing COVID cases.

However, an investigator selected by Farmville leadership, Dr. William Reese, claims that there were no extensive issues with its COVID-19 response as it was consistent with CDC guidance.  He noted that the biggest problem facing the facility was the detainee’s refusal to wear protective masks.  Furthermore, the facility has had no new cases since July.

There are several reasons why releasing the detainees into the local communities would be a bad idea.  First, they would most likely disappear into the country’s interior attempting to blend into the population and obtain an illegal job. Secondly, the reason why many of these detainees are in custody is because they pose some form of safety risk to the public.

Furthermore, releasing detainees does little to mitigate the risks of contracting COVID-19. The detention center is a quarantined environment; therefore, according to CDC guidelines, remaining in the facility under quarantine when it has already been exposed is the safest way to control the virus and its spread. Those who meet the CDC criteria for being at greater risk are already housed separately, while detainees with symptoms such as fever are placed in a medical airborne infection isolation room until symptoms subside.

It does not make sense to release detained individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 back into the general public as it only increases the risk of spread. As FAIR noted earlier this year, such pleas for release are nothing more than “a cynical, calculated effort to exploit a public health crisis in order to further an open borders agenda” masked by a humanitarian sham.