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James Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian national in ICE custody passed away on Aug. 6, 2020 at the Farmville detention centre in Virginia after contracting COVID-19 at the crowded, squalid facility.Courtesy of family

A 72-year-old Canadian has died in hospital after he was held for nearly three months in a U.S. immigration detention centre that had a major COVID-19 outbreak.

James Hill had been in custody at the privately run detention centre in Virginia operated on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Farmville Detention Center has made headlines because hundreds of detainees have been infected with the novel coronavirus, amid complaints of overcrowding and poor sanitation.

Mr. Hill was scheduled to fly to Canada on July 9, but just days before the flight, he had to be hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms.

A former physician in Louisiana, he was waiting to be deported after serving a 12-year sentence for writing Oxycontin prescriptions without seeing patients.

“A 72-year-old Canadian national in ICE custody passed away Wednesday night at a Virginia hospital,” ICE spokeswoman Kaitlyn Pote said in a statement on Thursday, adding that more details could not be released immediately.

Relatives confirmed that it was Mr. Hill. “We were all waiting for him to come back, we had made all the arrangements,” said a nephew, Douglas Hunt.

The family says Mr. Hill had served his sentence and did not deserve what happened to him. “All these years he was so looking forward to being back, and then through their negligence they let him die,” Mr. Hunt said.

Mr. Hill was sent to Farmville in April, but bureaucratic problems delayed his removal to Canada. He was still in custody when ICE transferred to Farmville 74 detainees from Florida and Arizona, two states with severe COVID-19 outbreaks. Fifty-one of the transferred detainees later tested positive for the virus.

Mr. Hill told relatives he was worried he was vulnerable because of his age. He said he had to sleep in a dorm with more than 80 men, with bunks crowded so closely that sweat from other detainees dripped on him. His lungs were also irritated after guards used pepper spray to control detainees.

Mr. Hill was the 17th person to die in ICE custody for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Farmville currently has 290 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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