Nineteen detainees in the same dormitory at the Aurora Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days, according to a report from Congressman Jason Crow's office, marking the most significant outbreak at that detention center.
"This spread within a single dorm shows the inherently dangerous nature of congregate settings like ICE detention centers," says Liz Jordan, an attorney with the Denver-based Civil Rights Enforcement and Education Center. "Even if the facility were following all CDC recommendations, an outbreak like this is not only possible, but likely. The safest thing ICE can do is release people to shelter at home with their families."
Aurora Fire Rescue confirmed that it had been notified of the outbreak by facility staffers on October 2, per local ordinance.
Over the course of the pandemic, nineteen staff members at the center have tested positive for COVID-19, and 73 detainees at the facility, formally known as the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, have tested positive. Many of those cases have been new arrivals who are tested, then kept separate from the general population for fourteen days. Others are found in the general population, but those have been relatively rare. Until now.
The nineteen new positive cases in the general population represent by far the largest outbreak at the facility since the start of the pandemic.
Immigration attorneys have sued both ICE and GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the facility, in an effort to secure the release of medically vulnerable clients; among other things, they argue that the Aurora facility, which has faced consistent allegations of medical neglect, is unequipped to handle the care of a medically vulnerable individual who comes down with COVID-19. Those lawsuits have produced mixed results; some of the plaintiffs have been released, while others are still locked up.
Crow visited the Aurora facility on September 9; in a subsequent report, his office said that John Fabbricatore, the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Denver field office director, had told the congressman he'd "released a large number of detainees to either humanitarian parole or alternatives to detention." There have been no issues with the people he's released into the community through his own discretion or those who were freed by the courts, Fabbricatore told Crow.
"[Fabbricatore] further stated that those who remain in the facility are not appropriate for release for reasons such as criminal history or nearness of deportation date," the report continues. Fabbricatore declined an interview request from Westword.
Crow's office says that the congressman plans to call Fabbricatore on October 5 to find out more about the outbreak.
A local ICE spokesperson was unable to provide information about the new positive cases, and instead sent this statement from the federal agency's website: "The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities. Since the onset of reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees.
"ICE continues to incorporate CDC’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency. In addition, ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus."