Ontario man in ICE custody dies after contracting coronavirus

A Canadian man who was among nearly 300 detainees diagnosed with coronavirus at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility has died.

James Hill, a Richmond Hill, Ont., native, contracted COVID-19 at the Immigration Centers of America Farmville Detention Center in Virginia.

Read more: Coronavirus: Frozen immigration systems across the globe keeping thousands apart

The 72-year-old was awaiting deportation to Canada at the time of his death after serving a prison sentence.

There have been 290 coronavirus cases at the Virginia facility as of Wednesday, according to statistics from ICE. A court document seeking relief for the detainees states that the overall population of the detention centre is 350 to 400.

ICE has confirmed Hill died Wednesday night at a hospital in Virginia. The agency said in a statement that he reported shortness of breath on July 10 and then spent several weeks in hospital.

Hill tested positive for coronavirus, though ICE said the preliminary cause of death has not yet been determined.

“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. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population,” the agency said in a statement Friday.

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Hill, a former family doctor in Shreveport, La., was convicted of a count of health-care fraud and distribution of a controlled substance in 2006 under a plea agreement. A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office states Hill wrote bogus prescriptions for Oxycontin in the names of his patients. He originally faced a 114-count indictment.

Hill was released in April but he was then sent to the detention facility. A judge ordered his deportation in May.

Hill pleaded to be sent home due to fears of contracting the virus, according to his nephew Douglas Hunt.

Read more: Ontario reports 88 new coronavirus cases, 5th day in a row with fewer than 100 cases

According to a court application seeking release for detainees at Farmville, there is an “active, uncontrollable” outbreak at the Virginia facility.

The petition was filed last month by advocacy groups representing four detainees who are vulnerable to the virus due to age or underlying medical conditions.

“Petitioners seek relief from this court because their detention has become unreasonably prolonged and/or they are at imminent risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19,” the document states.

ICE said it has taken “extensive” precautions to protect those in custody amid the coronavirus pandemic. Arrest and custody determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, the agency added. But since March, the overall population of those detained has been reduced by 40 per cent, the statement said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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