COVID-19 Outbreak and Death Result of ICE Agents Using Immigrants To Mobilize in George Floyd Protests

A preventable coronavirus outbreak and death occurred after ICE used immigrant transfers as an excuse to fly to D.C.


The Washington Post reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated the transfer of 74 detainees from Florida and Arizona to an immigration jail in Farmville, Virginia, to provide cover for the mobilization of Homeland Security tactical teams during the anti-police brutality protests in Washington, D.C.

As the Post explains, restrictions prevent ICE employees from taking chartered flights unless detainees are also onboard, meaning that moving tactical teams via these flights is also prohibited. To justify their movement, ICE claimed that it needed to move the prisoners to avoid overcrowding, a proposal that drew an objection from ICE officials in the Washington, D.C. field office. The objections were reportedly overruled by ICE headquarters and the transfers were carried out.

Last month, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that 51 of the 74 transfers tested positive for COVID-19 by the end of June. Soon, the outbreak spread to 97 percent of detainees in Farmville and became the largest recorded outbreak in any immigration jail at the time. One detainee, a 72-year-old Canadian national named James Thomas Hill, died after being hospitalized with the virus.

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in late May, protests occurred across the nation. Anti-brutality protesters in multiple cities were met with aggressive policing and further brutality. These demonstrations took a turn when, on June 1, U.S. Park police tear-gassed and clubbed protesters and journalists in front of the White House to clear the square just before President Trump crossed the area to take his infamous Bible picture in front of St. John's Church.

Soon after, Trump called for soldiers and law enforcement to deal with the protests and enforce a 7 p.m. curfew.

"In light of civil unrest taking place across the country, ICE personnel and Special Response Teams have been deployed to protect agency facilities and assets in support of the Federal Protective Service and assist local, state and federal law enforcement partners, as needed," ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett told Roll Call that same day.

According to reports, as many as 400 border patrol agents were deployed in the protests, some of which were documented by Reason's Christian Britschgi. The presence of federal law enforcement led to allegations of civil liberties abuses.