Nearly Eighty ICE Detainees in Aurora Quarantined

Around eighty detainees are awaiting COVID-19 test results.
Anthony Camera
Around eighty detainees are awaiting COVID-19 test results.
Over seventy people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Aurora immigrant detention center are in quarantine.

The detainees are housed together in one unit of the facility; they were placed under quarantine after two detainees exhibited possible symptoms of COVID-19, according to a March 25 oversight report from Congressman Jason Crow's office.

According to the report, those two detainees were moved to medical isolation rooms and then both tested. One test came back negative, while the other test result is pending. Two other men in that same housing unit exhibited flu-like symptoms and tested positive for influenza.

Currently, there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases among detainees at the Aurora facility. However, two ICE employees who work at the Aurora detention facility, which is run by the private prison company GEO Group through a contract with ICE, have tested positive for COVID-19. A spokesperson for GEO Group says that no GEO employees at the facility have tested positive.

Over this past week, the facility, which had a population of 633 detainees as of March 25, appears to have been releasing them in unusually large numbers.

A few days ago, ICE released around five trans detainees, some of whom are HIV-positive, according to Allegra Love, an immigration attorney.

On March 26, the facility released approximately a dozen female detainees, according to Sarah Jackson, the executive director of Casa de Paz, an organization that picks up newly released individuals. And on March 27, Casa de Paz picked up approximately sixteen newly released male detainees.

ICE did not respond to questions about its parole protocols for detainees at Aurora during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Colorado Representative Jason Crow, whose district includes the Aurora immigrant detention facility, sent a letter on March 27 to Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE, urging the release vulnerable detainees across the country who are being held solely for immigration violations. It was signed by fourteen other members of Congress, including fellow Colorado representatives Joe Neguse, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter.

"We write with serious concerns about the public health risks of detainees at detention facilities operated by [ICE] and contract facilities nationwide during the coronavirus outbreak. We believe that the COVID-19 outbreak across the country merits an evaluation of existing procedures regarding humanitarian parole," the letter states.

Aside from calling for the immediate release of people detained solely for immigration offenses, the elected officials ask Albence to consider all detainees with non-violent criminal charges or offenses for parole, as long as they "do not pose a public safety risk." The letter also encourages Albence to ensure that ICE employees "inform all detainees of their right to seek humanitarian release."

Lawyers across the country are asking federal judges to order that ICE release certain vulnerable detainees from custody. On March 26, a federal judge in New York ordered the release of ten ICE detainees in New Jersey, after lawyers said they had underlying health conditions that made them particularly susceptible to contracting a deadly coronavirus infection.

"The risk that Petitioners will face a severe, and quite possibly fatal, infection if they remain in immigration detention constitutes irreparable harm warranting a [temporary restraining order]," the federal judge wrote in her decision granting the release of the detainees.

A week before that ruling, however, a federal judge in Washington denied a similar request. Ken Cucinelli, the acting deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, praised that judge on Twitter, saying, "One judge got it right."

Update: The report from Crow's office incorrectly reported that an entire pod of seventy detainees was tested; only four of the detainees were tested, and the rest were quarantined together. This story has been updated to reflect that information.