ACLU Investigating Death of Iranian Immigrant at Aurora Detention Facility

Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado.
Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado. Anthony Camera
Earlier this morning, the ACLU of Colorado announced that it filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain more information about how a 64-year-old Iranian man, Kamyar Samimi, died while being held at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Aurora on December 2.

ICE issued a statement two days after Samimi died, saying that the primary cause of death was cardiac arrest and that Samimi had been transferred to the University of Colorado Medical Center on the morning of December 2 before he was pronounced dead shortly after 12 p.m.

The ACLU of Colorado wants to know exactly what happened.

“Once again, a death in ICE custody raises serious questions about whether the agency is continuing to fail in its legal duty to provide necessary and adequate medical care to detainees in its custody,” says Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado.

In 2012, a 46-year-old named Evalin-Ali Mandza died of cardiac arrest at the same detention center. An investigation of that death showed that staff at the GEO Group-run facility did not know how to properly use an EKG machine and stalled in calling an ambulance. The GEO Group manages private prisons across the U.S. and contracts with ICE to manage immigrant-detention facilities.

Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado. - ANTHONY CAMERA
Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado.
Anthony Camera
The ACLU has looked into deaths at immigrant-detention facilities nationwide and co-authored a report in 2016 called "Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignored Deaths in Detention." Nearly 200 immigrant detainees have died while in custody in ICE facilities since 2003.

Samimi, who came to the United States as a student in 1976 and was arrested at his home on November 17 by ICE (the agency says he had a minor drug conviction from 2005), is the latest detainee to die in Colorado.

“Mr. Samimi’s arrest, detention and death in custody display the inhumanity of our current federal immigration policies,” says ACLU of Colorado staff attorney Arash Jahanian. “He lived in the U.S. for forty years. ICE arrested him at his home with the intent to ship him off to a country he no longer knew. Then they locked him up in a detention facility, where he died two weeks later. ICE gave very little detail about what happened but made sure to mention his twelve-year-old drug-possession charge. The community deserves better, and that starts with ICE explaining what led to Mr. Samimi’s tragic death.”

Silverstein characterizes ICE's detention facilities as "cloaked in secrecy."

"[They] offer little to no transparency into the way detainees are treated within their walls,” the legal director says. "We are invoking the Freedom of Information Act to further the public’s right to know what goes on in these secretive taxpayer-funded institutions.”

Meanwhile, a class action lawsuit is being tried in federal court over alleged forced labor practices at the Aurora facility. In September, the ACLU of Colorado found that clients of Iraqi descent being held at the facility were being harassed by guards and pressured to self-deport.

A GEO Group spokesman told Westword at the time: "The Aurora, Colorado, facility has a longstanding record of providing highly rated services in a safe, secure and humane residential environment while treating all those entrusted to our care with the respect and dignity they deserve."
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker