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Senate Democrats Split Over State Inspections of ICE Facilities

AP Photo / Steve Helber

Members of the Virginia state Senate are considering a bill that would allow state inspectors access to detention centers holding people accused of violating immigration laws. But, Senate Democrats are divided about how to handle the situation.

When COVID-19 was sweeping through the privately-operated facility in Farmville holding Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, Governor Ralph Northam offered to test every person and guard at the facility. But that request went unanswered.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg at the Legal Aid Justice Center says that put the Commonwealth in an awkward position. 

"And so we were left, we the Commonwealth of Virginia, were left knocking on the door and saying pretty please," he explains. "Eventually the facility agreed to let local health inspectors in. But then at the last minute, they postponed that visit for a month.”

The detention facility eventually let in state inspectors, but only after a lawsuit was filed and one of the detainees died of coronavirus. That’s why Democratic Senator Jennifer Boysko of Herndon introduced a bill clarifying state inspectors could make unannounced visits. That’s an idea that’s running into opposition from Democratic state Senator Dave Marsden of Fairfax County.

“If we present ourselves as difficult to deal with in this circumstance, then I’m worried they may transfer their facilities elsewhere costing us jobs,” Marsden says.

Advocates say it’s not just the jobs of Virginians that are at stake. It’s also the lives of Virginians being detained in these facilities.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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