Activism

Anti-ICE Groups Planning Protest Outside House of GEO Facility Warden

A July 12 protest aimed to call attention to ICE and conditions in immigrant detention centers.
A July 12 protest aimed to call attention to ICE and conditions in immigrant detention centers. Erin McCarley
Abolish ICE Denver and the Denver Communists are organizing a protest outside the house of Johnny Choate, the warden of the immigrant detention facility in Aurora, on September 19.

"We are tired of being on the defensive, and frankly, GEO and the government, they don’t care if we sit outside of the detention centers and scream until we’re blue in the face — not that there isn’t value in that. But that is their home court," says protest organizer Matt Wozniak. "We’re no longer going to be reactionary. We’re going to go on the offensive, and this is one form of that."

GEO Group, which runs the immigration detention facility in Aurora through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is speaking out against the planned demonstration, which was advertised on Facebook on September 7 with a flier that included a photo of Choate.

“The safety of our employees and those entrusted to our care is our highest priority. We are deeply troubled by the dangerous rhetoric and intimidation perpetrated by these extremist groups, who have now targeted one of our employees and his family at their home, recklessly releasing their personal information. These are the same radical organizations that stormed our facility, which has been operating in Aurora for 30 years, and desecrated our American flag," said Pablo Paez, a GEO vice president, in a statement to Westword, referring to a July 12 protest during which a handful of protesters removed an American flag flying above the Aurora detention facility and replaced it with a Mexican one.


"Now that Congress’ summer recess is over, activists seeking change in immigration laws and policies should direct their thoughts and ideas to our elected leaders. These misdirected attacks and intimidation of our employees must stop, and we encourage our local leaders to stand against these hateful tactics and push for a return to civil discourse,” Paez continued.

Paez called GEO's work humane and referenced recent violence against ICE facilities, including shots fired into an ICE office in San Antonio and an armed attacker who was shot and killed outside an immigrant detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.

Wozniak says the event flier lists the address of a local recreation center as a meet-up point and not Choate's home address. He says that the organizers of the event are promoting a peaceful protest.

"We’re a non-violent group. We’re not going to do anything except exercise our First Amendment rights in the neighborhood in which this person lives," says Wozniak.


The facility that Choate runs has been under fire from immigrant-rights activists, who accuse GEO Group and ICE of committing medical neglect and allowing sub-standard living conditions. Congressman Jason Crow's office is performing weekly inspections of the facility, and Crow, whose district includes Aurora, is pushing legislation that would require immigration detention facilities to allow members of Congress to inspect facilities within 48 hours of a request. Congressman Joe Neguse is calling for a congressional oversight hearing on GEO Group and its immigration detention facilities.

"They are expressing a lot of concern for their employee right now," Wozniak says of GEO. "If they expressed any of that toward the people in their care, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation right now."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.