Immigration and Customs Enforcement just announced that the 432-bed annex at the Aurora immigration detention facility will remain open for at least another year.
The contract, signed by ICE on Monday, April 15, extends what was originally a ninety-day contract signed in January to open the annex.
That month, ICE authorized the private prison company GEO Group, which runs the facility through a contract with the federal agency, to expand its operations into the annex to house new detainees; that brought the facility's total capacity to 1,532. Prior to its opening, the annex had laid dormant for years.
The revelation that the facility was expanding into the annex drew the ire of both elected officials and immigrant-rights activists.
"ICE's decision to allow the expansion of its facility without so much as a hint of notice to local elected officials or the public is incomprehensible," Allison Hiltz of Aurora City Council said at the time. "I can think of only two reasons for keeping this a secret: fear of public backlash or incompetence on the part of its management team. And neither inspires confidence in their ability to responsibly oversee human lives."
“At the same time this administration is promoting dangerous immigration policies such as family separation and gutting resources at every level for immigration services, the Aurora ICE facility’s 40 percent capacity increase will be extended for another 12 months," Congressman Jason Crow, whose district includes Aurora, says in a statement. "We must do all that we can to stand up for the safety of our communities and public health. In the last three months, we’ve seen multiple disease outbreaks and disturbing reports about the medical care and conditions of the facility. If the facility is going to increase its population, it is common sense that their medical staff and resources would increase as well."
The detention facility in Aurora has been under scrutiny in recent months. Crow is working on creating a mechanism that would require immigration detention facilities to comply with inspection requests from members of Congress within 48 hours. Crow was denied access to the facility in February and says that his requests to inspect the facility were denied for several weeks. ICE characterizes this series of events differently, saying that members of Congress are welcome to inspect the facility but just need to notify ICE officials beforehand.
“I am also concerned that the temporary nature of the Annex in Aurora is not up to the standards that a permanent facility would be held to," Crow's statement continues. "I continue to ask for, and have failed to receive, the contracts between ICE and GEO, which would answer many of the questions that the public desperately needs answered. A failure to do so is a threat to the safety of the detainees and the public health of our community. It is the responsibility of ICE to provide the public with clear and definitive answers about its plans and provide their contracts immediately.”
Additionally, the ACLU of Colorado is suing ICE for more information about the December 2017 death of Iranian national Kamyar Samimi while in ICE custody. And in March, René Lima-Marín filed a claim alleging medical neglect at the facility while he was detained there.
With Donald Trump in office, ICE has been ramping up its operations. In a recent press release, ICE says that in 2018, it arrested 11 percent more individuals than it did in 2017. The federal agency also had more than 42,000 people in custody per day last year, the highest number since ICE began tracking this data in 2001, according to CNN.
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.