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Opinion No worries at the private immigration detention center in Farmville

The Immigration Center of America in Farmville, Va. (Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement)

Courtesy of The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

What a difference a federal department can make.

Last week, the Justice Department announced plans to stop using private prisons, saying that contracting out incarceration is less safe and less effective.  The decision affects about 22,000 inmates at 13 facilities run by such for-profit firms as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.

Yet over at the Department of Homeland Security and its sub agency, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, everything is just ducky when it comes to private detention centers for undocumented immigrants.

And that includes Farmville’s immigrant prison run by the Immigration Centers of America, a private firm owned by several Richmond businessmen.

The Justice Department based its decision to end private prisons on a report that found that private prisons are racked by disturbances and injuries, including a riot at Mississippi facility involving about 250 inmates who were upset about poor food and medical care. Investigative reports in Mother Jones and the Nation spotlighted similar maladies.

The decision to end federal use of private prisons, however, does not include immigrant gulags even though they are “technically” in the federal prison system.

To make sure, I contacted an ICE spokesperson about the Farmville Detention Center, which can hold up to 642 people who have in some way violated immigration law and may be waiting for deportation.

In response, I got and email stating:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) remains committed to providing a safe and humane environment for all those in its custody. For individuals in its custody, ICE seeks to reduce transfers, maximize access to counsel and visitation, promote recreation, improve conditions of confinement and ensure quality medical, mental health and dental care.”

Gee, that sounds good enough to make anyone want to overstay a visa.

In the curious arrangement at the Virginia jail, the good times will keep rolling. The detention center generates revenue from a per-diem, per-head rate. The city of Farmville, home of Longwood University, gets $1 per day per prisoner. That amounts to roughly $200,000 a year plus another $90,000 or so in business and real estate taxes.

ICA’s owners, naturally, profit as well.

If Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is elected, Farmville and other Virginia burgs might find building even more immigrant detention centers enticing.

Peter Galuszka is a regular contributor to All Opinions Are Local. Would you like to write for All Opinions Are Local? Email