Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, sends immigrants from Virginia and D.C. who they allege are in the country illegally to a detention center in Farmville. Understanding the finances behind that facility begins at Farmville’s Town Hall.
Although it’s the town of Farmville that holds the main contract with federal officials to house immigrants, it’s actually a private company that operates the facility. It owns the land and building, and subcontracts with the town.
The company is called Immigration Centers of America, or ICA, and it’s owned by a realtor in Richmond.
Farmville’s interim Town Manager, Scott Davis, says ICA prepares the monthly invoices, and Farmville sends them to the federal government. “Then ICE sends us the payment for the invoices that were sent, we get a $1 a day per diem for however many number of detainees are there,” described Davis during a recent interview.
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According to numbers provided by Davis, Farmville makes about $20,000 a month on this arrangement. Put into context, that’s about 2% of the town’s annual general fund averaged over the past nine years.
But that’s just one piece of the financial puzzle. For instance, in one recent fiscal year ICA’s water bill was almost one-fifth of the town’s total water revenue.
“There's real estate taxes, there's personal property taxes. They pay water and sewer,” added Davis. “They've created over probably 160 plus jobs in our community at federal wage level.”
But all of that pales in comparison to what the private company ICA makes -- about $2 million a month. That’s federal taxpayers dollars, funnelled to a private company, through the town of Farmville.
“Essentially (Farmville) kind of serves as a broker and then they take a kickback and then it's the company that reaps the large benefits,” explained Jesse Franzblau with the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Sitting in Franzblau’s DC office we reviewed documents his organization obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request. They confirm the arrangement described by Farmville officials.
Franzblau says that what’s happening in Virginia is happening across the country -- local officials rubber-stamping facilities then taking a fee. It concerns him.
“The mass immigration detention system is driven by profit,” said Franzblau. “People are suffering dramatically in detention, in a system where they shouldn't be.”
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Lyle Boelens is an official with ICE. RADIOIQ sat down with him after a recent tour of the facility in Farmville. When asked whether the current structure incentivizes holding more people he conceded that more detainees does mean more revenue coming in.
However, he says detainment decisions are not influenced by that. “We make detention decisions based upon the the individual being a flight risk or a threat to the public safety,” said Boelens.
Still, Franzblau and other advocates say private detention facilities should be banned. That’s what the California state legislature recently did, as has Illinois. Franzblau says state or local lawmakers in Virginia could do the same. “They could say we're out and they could say we have had enough of this. This has caused too much harm to people here,” he said.
Farmville’s town manager says he doesn’t know of any plans to end or alter the arrangement with ICE and ICA. Meanwhile, ICA is currently pursuing a contract to build another facility in Maryland.