Two detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Aurora have tested positive for COVID-19.
The positive test results, confirmed by the Tri-County Health Department, mark the first time that detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility have tested positive for the virus.
The facility, which is run by private prison company GEO Group, has also had two ICE employees and five GEO Group staffers test positive for COVID-19, according to a May 11 report from the office of Congressman Jason Crow.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started sweeping across Colorado, immigrant-rights advocates and attorneys have been pushing for local ICE officials to release detainees from the facility, arguing that correctional settings are ripe environments for the spread of the virus.
Carlos Franco-Paredes, an infectious-disease doctor with the University of Colorado, has urged the ICE facility to reduce the detainee population and release vulnerable individuals. "The potential for the spread of one of these outbreaks within that detention facility may have significant casualties," Franco-Paredes wrote in a letter to local ICE leadership in March.
The May 11 report from Crow's office noted that 509 ICE detainees were housed in the facility on that date. As of April 10, there were also 58 U.S. Marshal detainees being held there. The facility has a maximum capacity of 1,532.
Even with the facility at well below capacity, advocates and attorneys for detainees housed inside are concerned that proper social distancing is not possible there, heightening the likelihood of spreading the virus. They also point to the facility's past history of both infectious-disease outbreaks and alleged medical neglect, resulting in the death of a detainee in 2017, as evidence that staffers there aren't equipped to handle detainees who get sick.
Another factor heightens the risks in the facility: new detainees who've been transferred there from other ICE detention spots across the country, as well as correctional facilities in Colorado that have been hot spots for the virus, such as the one in Sterling. To minimize potential problems, local ICE officials say they're isolating any new detainees who have fevers or exhibit respiratory issues. (These officials say they can't comment on the two confirmed positive cases until they're listed on the official ICE COVID-19 online database.)
In recent weeks, lawyers for some detainees have filed petitions to get their clients released from ICE facilities around the country on the grounds that the detainees are medically vulnerable. Some of those petitions have been successful, while others have been dismissed in federal court on technical grounds.
Aaron Hall, a local immigration attorney who has filed a handful of these petitions, spoke to Westword in late April, after a federal judge ordered the release of one of his clients.
"I think that the court was clear that ICE’s protocols that they’ve implemented are not going to be enough to keep the virus out of the facility if it’s not already there," Hall said.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.