A 72–year–old Canadian man has died while in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia after he yielded a positive COVID–19 test result.
James Thomas Hill tested positive for COVID–19 on July 11 following a mass detention center outbreak. Though Hill’s official cause of death is unknown, staff report that he was hospitalized for shortness of breath hours before his death.
ICE took Hill into custody following his release from a North Carolina prison where he served 13 years of a 26–year sentence after being convicted for health care fraud and for distributing a controlled substance. US federal immigration law requires ICE authorities to detain aggravated felons upon release from prison, and ICE may hold immigrants for an indeterminate period of time before deporting them.
ICE maintains that the agency is “firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody” and has vowed to “undertak[e] a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident,” a release said Friday. The agency notes in its release that fatalities are “exceedingly rare” and “occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.”
Despite ICE’s statements, activists continue to protest inhumane treatment of immigrants held in custody, while calling to abolish ICE. Human rights organizations have called attention to deteriorating health conditions in facilities, arguing that COVID–19 poses severe health risks to those in custody, exacerbating preexisting health crises.