The Aurora detention center is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with ICE. Last week, ten detainees at the facility were under quarantine after having been exposed to an immigration attorney who may have had COVID-19. Across the United States, there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 among ICE detainees, and one confirmed case among ICE employees working at detention facilities — not including this Aurora case.
Before the positive result in Aurora, immigration attorneys had already been asking ICE to parole or bond out detainees who are vulnerable to contracting serious cases of COVID-19, such as older individuals and those with suppressed immune systems. Meanwhile, unions representing immigration attorneys, ICE prosecutors and immigration judges have come together to call for the temporary closure of all immigration courts nationwide, including the one in Aurora.
So far, the Department of Justice has shut down the dockets at non-detained courts, including one in downtown Denver, but not at detained courts, like the one at the Aurora ICE facility. An immigration judge who had been working at the Denver immigration court is currently quarantined at home with a suspected case of COVID-19.
This week, immigration attorneys representing detained clients at the Aurora facility are required to wear eye protection, N-95 masks and gloves when meeting with clients. After an attorney arrives in the detained court, the judge decides whether the lawyer will have to continue wearing personal protective equipment, according to Alex Gavern, a Denver immigration attorney.
"The personal protective equipment should be used for medical personnel and first responders who are having to deal with this constantly," Gavern notes. "This seems to be taking resources away from those people."
Alethea Smock, a local ICE spokesperson, has not responded to Westword's questions regarding the detainees under quarantine at the Aurora facility. According to ICE, the employee who tested positive has not had contact with detainees.