Immigration

Joe Neguse Pushes Congressional Hearing on Aurora Immigration Detention Facility

Joe Neguse speaking at the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Marade.
Joe Neguse speaking at the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Marade. Kenneth Hamblin III
Joe Neguse wants Congress to investigate GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Aurora immigration detention facility.

“I take very seriously the requirement that people in the custody of the U.S. government must be safe and able to access basic medical care while in custody," Neguse wrote in a letter he sent the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee today, June 25. "I believe an oversight hearing on the foregoing issues is critical.”

The letter addresses reports of subpar medical care at the Aurora facility and issues over outdoor recreation, in-person visitation and the use of restraints on detainees in solitary confinement, all complaints that activists, lawyers and even Homeland Security's own investigators have raised about the Aurora facility, which GEO Group runs through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Neguse, who represents Colorado's Second Congressional District, also points out that approximately 150 detainees are currently under infectious-disease quarantines, which has been a recurring issue at the facility this year.

A GEO Group spokesperson sent us this statement: â€œWe have never been contacted by the Congressman. We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with him and his staff to discuss his concerns and tour the facility.”

In the letter, Neguse notes that the federal government has still not responded to a complaint about medical care at the Aurora facility filed in June 2018 by the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit pushing for a "more fair and just immigration system." The complaint was sent to multiple federal agencies, including ICE and Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General. This month, the American Immigration Council submitted an addendum to its complaint, documenting new instances of alleged inadequate medical care at the Aurora detention facility.

"We are disturbed to see that ICE has failed to either address our original allegations in the complaint or meaningfully respond to our recommendations. Furthermore, it seems that the situation in the Aurora facility has grown miserably worse in the past year, due in large part to the fact that there was this expansion in 2019 of 432 beds," says Katie Shepherd, an attorney at the American Immigration Council.

Shepherd is referencing the January expansion of the Aurora facility into an annex that increased the total bed count from 1,100 to 1,532. That expansion came as the federal government was searching for beds to handle the increasing number of individuals crossing the border.

In May, Colorado Representative Jason Crow introduced a bill that would require immigration detention facilities to abide by investigation requests from members of Congress within 48 hours; the Public Oversight of Detention Centers Act, also known as the POD Act, is still working its way through the House.

On June 16, three detainees escaped from the Aurora detention facility; they were captured by ICE officers on June 21.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.