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Alien Depot Ramps Up

Immigration detention center in Farmville gets a boost from federal program.

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A private immigrant detention center that was built by three Richmond businessmen and set to open soon in Farmville could get a boost from a federal program to identify criminals among people picked up as illegal immigrants.

The $21-million facility will house up to 584 detainees initially. The jail is the first to be built by Richmond-based Immigration Centers of America (ICA), whose top executives include Ken Newsome, president of AMF Bakery Systems, and Warren Coleman and Russell Harper of Harper Associates.

The facility, which has drawn criticism from social and immigration activists, eventually may house 1,000 detainees arrested in a federal program called Secure Communities run by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Secure Communities was started in 2008 and involves law enforcement officials using a biometric database to identify people picked up as illegal immigrants. Congress has appropriated $1.4 billion for the program which is operating in Texas, Delaware, Virginia and six other states.

The federal agency's website says that the database differentiates between illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes such as murder and rape, and lesser crimes. Sonia Ansari, an Austin, Texas, immigration lawyer, blogs that while Secure Communities has resulted in deporting 1,911 undocumented aliens for serious crimes since 2008, it also resulted in the deportation of 14,615 illegal immigrants busted for lesser crimes such as gambling.

Activists have raised issues with the Farmville facility, noting that its executives have no experience running jails and that they hope to hire employees from a public jail facility nearby where an illegal alien died in 2008 after being denied medical care.

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