Toronto man detained by ICE in US dies after contracting coronavirus

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A Canadian who contracted the coronavirus while in the care of U.S. immigration authorities has died, leaving his family shaken and seeking answers from governments on both sides of the border.James Hill, 72, died Wednesday in a Virginia hospital, four weeks after being transferred there from a nearby detention center run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Hill, a former Louisiana doctor, had been detained by ICE for three months after serving more than 13 years in prison for medical fraud and distributing a controlled substance.

An ICE statement said a judge ordered his deportation in May.

His daughter said Hill was due to return home to Toronto in early July, but ICE said he started to have breathing problems and was rushed to a local hospital on July 10.

He tested positive for COVID-19 the next day.

A sign for the town of Farmville is posted near the entrance to the road to the ICE Detention Center in Virginia. Hill’s daughter says her father feared contracting the coronavirus at the detention center. (Julia Rendleman / Reuters)

In a statement to CBC News on Friday, Global Affairs Canada said it is aware that a Canadian citizen has recently passed away in the United States and expressed condolences to the individual’s family.

“Consular officials are in contact with local authorities to gather additional information and provide consular assistance to the family of the Canadian citizen,” the statement said. He said the ministry could not release other information for confidentiality reasons.

‘The worst place it has ever been’

A niece confirmed to CBC News that her uncle had passed away, saying the family were not happy with the way things were being handled.

Jessica Marostega Bob, who lives in the Guelph / Eramosa area, about 100 kilometers west of Toronto, said the family are considering legal action.

Hill’s daughter, Verity Hill, told The Canadian Press that her father described Farmville Detention Center as “the worst place he’s ever been” and was increasingly concerned about catching the virus.

She said that initially her father was placed in solitary confinement to protect his health, but was returned for reasons that were not clear to his family.

“I just can’t believe they didn’t isolate the sick,” Hill said of ICE, accusing the agency of dragging their feet in the process of getting his father home.

“I think they just think some people deserve to die.… That’s what crossed my mind.

Nearly 300 cases of COVID-19 in the center

According to ICE statistics, there were 290 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Farmville facility on Wednesday, with a total of 350 to 400 inmates at the center.

Spokeswoman Kaitlyn Pote said the agency was following all government instructions on COVID-19 and providing inmates with regular access to medical testing and treatment.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and well-being of all in its care and is undertaking a full, agency-wide review of this incident, as it is doing in all of these cases,” Pote said in a statement.

But Claudia Cubas, of the Washington-based immigrant justice organization CAIR Coalition, said Hill’s death underscored U.S. authorities’ reluctance to protect the health and safety of detainees.

“I know Mr. Hill had a criminal history, but he was a person,” Cubas said. “You can’t bring his life back. We cannot help him reunite with his family. Her life is gone forever. ”

Cubas argued that the inability of immigration detainees to physically move away and the constant integration of new detainees into a center’s population made the spread of the coronavirus in detention centers like Farmville incredibly easy.

She also pointed to a recent Canadian Federal Court ruling against the Canada-United States Safe Third Country Agreement – which prevented asylum seekers in the United States from seeking refuge in Canada – as further evidence that states -Unis consider the life of prisoners to be disposable.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a Liberal MP from Toronto whose office was contacted by Hill’s family on July 15, said he was unsure if anyone else in the Canadian government was aware of the situation of Hill.

He said he was unfortunately unable to help the family, as the man had already contracted COVID-19 by the time they contacted his office.

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