Considering the massive law enforcement presence outside the GEO immigrant detention facility in Aurora on Saturday, September 21, it felt like martial law had been declared. Officers from across metro Denver had shown up to prevent conflicts between pro- and anti-ICE protesters outside of the facility.
But aside from a little shouting, no such conflicts occurred.
The anti-ICE march was planned by Enough Action Coalition weeks ago as a rally against white supremacy that would start in MLK Park in Denver and end outside the detention facility in Aurora, which is run by the private prison company GEO Group through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE supporters, led by conservative radio talk-show host Randy Corporon and conservative media personality Michelle Malkin, organized a counter-protest on the same day. Corporon and Malkin had previously hosted a pro-ICE rally outside of the facility on Labor Day.
At the Labor Day protest, anti-ICE protesters brought a megaphone, using its siren to interrupt speakers. The conservative organizers promised to bring a better sound system for the next demonstration.
The Aurora Police Department prepared for the dueling protests by barricading a section in front of the detention facility and sending dozens of its own officers to the outskirts of the facility and between the two sides of demonstrators. There were also law enforcement officers from the Adams County Sheriff's Office and the Boulder Police Department.
About 500 to 600 people, more or less evenly split on each side, participated, about half the amount that protested outside the facility on July 12. During that protest, a handful of demonstrators removed an American flag above the facility and replaced it with a Mexican one, which caused a national media frenzy.
On Saturday, the pro-ICE side began its demonstration earlier in the day. Corporon emceed the event, and conservative and right-wing speakers expressed their support for ICE and often rallied the crowd to chant things like "Thank you, ICE!" and "Stand with ICE!"
"There’s still one county in this great state that’s working with ICE, and you’re looking at the guy who runs that agency," Steve Reams, the sheriff who notoriously said he'd go to jail for not implementing the red flag law, told the crowd. Republican state representatives Patrick Neville and Dave Williams were also at the rally.
Pro-ICE canvassers collected signatures to recall Governor Jared Polis and to add a constitutional amendment barring anyone but U.S. citizens from voting. Although the latter is already law, canvassers said that the word "citizens" in the state constitution is too ambiguous and allows for non-U.S. citizens to vote.
A pastor named Steven Grant also made an appearance. Grant referred to the detainees in the detention facility as "people that should be deported," adding, "In a family, somebody's got to take out the trash."
By the time the pro-ICE protest had ended, demonstrators were directed to go to the barricade and offer their support to law enforcement officers.
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As they did so, the anti-ICE marchers approached the facility, some clad in Native American garb and singing traditional songs. The pro-ICE demonstrators tried drowning them out by singing "God Bless America."
After a few songs were sung, most of the pro-ICE demonstrators cleared out. A few stayed behind and engaged in expletive-ridden shouting matches with a handful of anti-ICE demonstrators. Police stood by, sometimes smiling as words flew.
The anti-ICE protesters finished their rally with some prayers, poetry, and a speech by Jeanette Vizguerra about ICE, or "la pinche migra," as she calls the agency.
The September 21 protests came two days after a few hundred anti-ICE protesters marched through a quiet neighborhood in southeast Denver and demonstrated in front of the house of Johnny Choate, the warden of the GEO detention facility.