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Detainees Say ICE Fired on Them During Coronavirus Protest

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The protest, begun that morning, was entirely peaceful. Then the guard pulled the trigger.

It was Monday, June 22, and migrants, alarmed at the rapid spread of coronavirus within their Farmville, Virginia, detention center, refused a meal and declined to rise for the late-afternoon attendance count within their crowded dormitory, according to two detainees who directly experienced the frightening situation.

Then the detention-center authorities ordered the 80 or so migrants back to their bunks. Ten or more guards in body armor rushed in. “The first thing they did was fire a shot,” said one of the detainees, whom The Daily Beast will call Johnny.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guard fired his weapon above the migrants’ heads, and didn’t hit anyone. “It was a distraction bullet, the guy with the gun said. But a distraction from what?” Johnny asked. ICE confirmed the discharge of a weapon, but disputed the guard fired any projectile.

Another detainee, whom The Daily Beast will call Jimmy, was in his bunk bed when the fracas began, ill with a fever and other symptoms in a facility where COVID-19 has broken out. He did not see the gun fire, but was roused by hearing the “really, really loud” shot.

As terrified people ran back to their bunks—“one guy was running from the shower,” Johnny said—guards in riot gear and carrying shields ordered Jimmy out of his bed. They ushered him and 11 others to a nearby gym, where the men were forced to lie face down. When he walked toward the guards, Jimmy said, the one guard’s gun remained drawn.

“I was afraid for my life at that moment,” Jimmy said.

Their accounts, backed by those of four attorneys for other detainees at the privately run Farmville Detention Center, portray a climate of fear within the center—fear of both the novel coronavirus and ICE violence against detainees who want treatment and information about a potentially life-threatening sickness.

Adina Appelbaum, who runs the immigration impact lab at the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, was unaware of any previous instance, at least in the greater DC area, of ICE guards firing a weapon within a detention facility.

“In the past 10 years of CAIR Coalition defending the rights of immigrants who are detained, our organization has not heard of guns being pulled on people who are detained in this region,”........

© The Daily Beast