Canadian man in U.S. immigration custody dies after contracting COVID-19
OTTAWA -- A Canadian man died Wednesday night after spending months in a United States immigration detention centre where a large number of COVID-19 cases had been reported.
James Thomas Hill, who tested positive for the novel coronavirus in July, was 72 years old.
According to a press release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Hill was subject to "mandatory detention" after being released from a correctional institute in North Carolina. He entered ICE custody on April 15, and a judge ordered Hill’s removal from the United States on May 12.
However, as the months trickled by and COVID-19 continued to spread, the Farmville Detention Centre in Virginia where Hill was being held got hit — hard.
According to a July 23 report from CNN, nearly 75 per cent of detainees at the centre had contracted the virus.
Hill reported shortness of breath to facility staff on July 10, according to ICE, and he was admitted to a hospital that same day. On July 11, he tested positive for COVID-19.
On Wednesday night, Hill was pronounced dead at the hospital. ICE said the preliminary cause of death is unknown.
"ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive, agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases," the agency said in the release.
"Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population."
Angela Savard, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, told CTVNews.ca in a statement that they are "aware that a Canadian citizen recently died in the United States."
"We offer our sincere condolences to the family of the individual," she said.
"Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and are providing consular assistance to the family of the Canadian citizen."
Meanwhile, four immigrants detained at the Farmville centre filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court on July 21 against ICE and the centre over their handling of the pandemic.
"A humanitarian crisis is rapidly unfolding at Farmville Detention Center," the text of the complaint reads.
"Defendants did not take, and have not taken, appropriate precautions to protect the individuals inside Farmville. Defendants have packed up to 80 individuals in poorly ventilated dorm rooms, making them sleep inches from one another—the opposite of appropriate social distancing and a recipe for uncontrollable spread of the virus."
In the press release about Hill’s death, ICE did not mention the lawsuit but said it has "taken extensive precautions to limit the potential spread of COVID-19."
The statement also emphasized the access to care that ICE said it makes available to detainees.
"Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay," the press release stated.
"All ICE detainees receive medical, dental and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care."