An animated GIF shows a satellite image of a town at the top with a road leading down the bottom. A large, white building gradually comes into view off to the side of the road.

What does it take to detain an immigrant?

In Farmville, Virginia it takes a private company that profits from holding as many people as possible, a Town Council that takes a cut of the profit, and a federal government agency that makes the payout.

Many of my neighbors in Charlottesville, Virginia, might not know that not too far away, immigrants from around the state (and who are detained at the southern border and elsewhere) are held in a huge, jail-like facility while their immigration cases make their way through our often slow-moving system. The story of ICA Farmville runs along the arc of the story of the rise of immigration detention in the U.S.

Last year, I won a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation just as I began my position as editor-in-chief of Charlottesville Tomorrow. The fellowship is supporting my continued reporting on the immigrant experience in central Virginia. My first story is about ICA Farmville, the people who run it, and the people who want to see it shut down. It’s a place that once had upwards of 800 detainees. A large COVID-19 outbreak and a judge’s order have forced it to stop taking in new ICE detainees and now they have in their custody just 11 people.

The story was produced with palabra, an amazing national media organization that has features fresh reporting and voices. We’re also running it locally today in Charlottesville Tomorrow.

I could have written 3,000 more words — and I actually did (thank you to my editor Monica Campbell) — but I hope this piece helps more people understand what our immigration system does, and how it requires the participation of many people to do it. Whatever you think of our immigration system, I think it’s important to know what it actually does.

Read the story in palabra >>

Or read it in Charlottesville Tomorrow >>

(Wherever you read, be sure to subscribe for free and support media that you value.)

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