While the Aurora Contract Detention Center has already registered COVID-19 outbreaks among Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees and GEO Group employees, now U.S. Marshals detainees are coming up with positive tests.
"As of November 12, 79 U.S. Marshals prisoners were being held at the Aurora ICE Processing Center. As of November 12, we have received reports of 25 U.S. Marshals prisoners at the facility having tested positive for COVID-19 at any point during the pandemic, and one prisoner has since recovered," says Lynzey Donahue, a spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals.
But while that detainee had recovered by early October, it appears that the number of prisoners currently testing positive has increased over the last week. Virginia Grady, a federal public defender in Denver, says that on November 19, the U.S. Marshals office told her there were now forty confirmed cases among U.S. Marshals detainees at the Aurora facility.
"They are notoriously irresponsible with serious medical issues," Grady says of the detention facility. "This is not unique or anomalous. Imagine: If they can't handle a measles outbreak, how they can handle a deadly contagion?"
The U.S. Marshals inmates detained at the Aurora facility, which is run by private-prison company GEO Group, are kept in separate dormitories from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees. Some of the U.S. Marshals detainees have been charged with federal crimes and their cases are ongoing; others have been convicted of federal crimes and are waiting to be transported to a Bureau of Prisons facility.
As of November 13, there were just 280 ICE detainees at the Aurora facility, according to a report from Congressman Jason Crow's office, way down from the 1,532 capacity for ICE detainees at the facility. As of November 17, 33 of the detainees there were currently "under isolation or monitoring," owing to confirmed COVID cases. A total of 124 ICE detainees at the Aurora facility have tested positive for COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, according to ICE statistics.
Among GEO Group staffers at the facility, at least 64 have current cases of the virus.
Immigration lawyers and civil-rights attorneys have been trying to get their clients released from the facility, pointing to the heightened COVID threat in congregate settings, especially for medically vulnerable individuals. Some of their efforts have been successful, through lawsuits, humanitarian parole by ICE, or bond.
"The challenge of preventing the spread of COVID-19 is an issue that is not only impacting the Aurora ICE Processing Center, but the whole state of Colorado, including the state’s juvenile prisons and county jails," says a GEO Group spokesperson. "While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges, from the very beginning we have taken extensive measures to ensure the health and safety of those in our care and our employees, who are on the front lines making daily sacrifices at the center."
The GEO spokesperson points out that the Aurora detention center provides access to "regular handwashing with clean water and soap in all housing areas and throughout the facility," masks for all staff and detainees, and 24/7 health care; the facility has also increased sterilization and cleaning of the facility.
Even so, Grady suggests, "GEO probably sets the low bar."
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