Starting Monday, July 15, staffers from Congressman Jason Crow's office or the Democrat himself will inspect the immigrant detention facility in Aurora on a weekly basis, using Immigration and Customs Enforcement's detention standards.
"This is the next step in our oversight and accountability of ICE and DHS and the Aurora Detention Center. It’s become clear over the last months that they’re unwilling to conduct the oversight and improve conditions. So we’re going to step in and do it and continue to shine a light on the conditions of the facility," says Crow, whose congressional district includes Aurora.
Crow and Aurora City Councilwoman Allison Hiltz attempted to visit the center in February unannounced amid concerns regarding infectious-disease quarantines. They were turned away, though Crow was able to tour the facility 24 days later. ICE, whose detainees are housed in the GEO Group-run facility, says that members of Congress can tour the facility as long as they give advanced notice. ICE declined to comment for this article.
Crow says he visited the facility unannounced so that staff couldn't put up the "window dressing."
"Our hope is that if we have a scheduled regular visit on a weekly basis, even if they do the window dressing, they will improve conditions," says Crow. "If our regular visits increase the care and enforce GEO and ICE to do the things that they should be doing anyhow, then I will feel good about that."
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As evidence that congressional oversight works, Crow says that following his visit in February, the Tri-County Health Department got involved in managing infectious-disease outbreaks at the detention center.
The inspection rubric that Crow staffers will take on their weekly inspections includes questions about the number of detainees that entered and exited the facility in the past week, how many are under infectious-disease quarantines, and how quickly they can access medical care.
"My hope is that this serves as a national model, and other representatives around the country will look at what we’re doing in the absence of willingness of DHS and ICE and this administration to do the right thing. We hope this serves as a model for representatives to conduct oversight," Crow says.
In May, Crow introduced a bill that would require immigration detention facilities to respond to inspection requests from members of Congress within 48 hours; the bill is working its way through the House and has also been added to the 2020 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill. In June, Congressman Joe Neguse, also part of Colorado's Democratic congressional delegation, sent a letter to a House subcommittee asking for a hearing looking into the Aurora facility and others around the U.S. And last week, Crow called for the government to stop using private contractors for immigration detention.