Nine more Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at a facility in Aurora have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a May 28 email sent by the Aurora fire chief to Aurora City Council members. That brings the total number of positive cases among the detainee population there to eleven.
Two ICE employees at the facility and seven workers with GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Aurora ICE Processing Center, have also tested positive for COVID-19.
The nine detainees who recently tested positive arrived together at the Aurora facility, where they remain housed in a group and kept separate from other detainees in more populated dormitories, according to a source who asked to remain anonymous.
One of the two detainees who'd previously tested positive had been housed with this group of nine, says the source. The other detainee who tested positive had come to Aurora from a state prison in Sterling that has been a hot spot for COVID-19. As of May 19, he was in a local hospital, still fighting the virus, according to a May 20 report from the office of Congressman Jason Crow.
Local ICE officials declined to comment on the new positive cases. In previous statements, however, they've said that the Aurora facility staff is isolating any new detainees who have fevers or exhibit respiratory ailments.
The ICE detainee population at the Aurora facility was 499 people as of May 20, according to Crow's office. The U.S. Marshals also had fifty of their own detainees at the facility as of May 22.
That combined total is well below the facility's 1,532 capacity. However, immigration-rights advocates, attorneys and politicians have been pushing for Colorado ICE officials to continue reducing the population, arguing that the risk of keeping asylum seekers and individuals with non-violent criminal convictions in the facility during the pandemic outweighs the potential harm of releasing them.
In a statement issued on May 24 about the first two confirmed detainee cases in Aurora, Carlos Franco-Paredes, a University of Colorado infectious-disease specialist, said: "The two people who’ve fallen ill are likely the tip of a larger iceberg. This fact has been consistently true every time when broader viral testing is conducted."
During the pandemic, civil-rights attorneys have filed class-action lawsuits against both a local sheriff and state officials seeking release of medically vulnerable detainees. On the national level, attorneys have also been fighting in federal court to have their clients, especially medically vulnerable ones, released from the detention facility in Aurora. Some of those lawsuits have been successful, while others have been denied on the grounds that the type of petition filed was not the proper vehicle for adjudication of the claims.
In recent days, activists associated with the Abolish ICE Denver group have been camping in front of the facility, saying that they won't leave before all the detainees are released.
The Aurora ICE facility is not alone in grappling with COVID-19. Correctional facilities across Colorado have been hit hard by the pandemic, as their close quarters often make social distancing impossible.
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.