Senator Julie Gonzales: TV Station Failed at Aurora Immigrant Detention Facility Tours

Senator Julie Gonzales: TV Station Failed at Aurora Immigrant Detention Facility Tours
Earlier this week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement took a handful of local television reporters on a tour of its detention facility in Aurora, which is run by private prison company GEO Group.

The tour marked the first time that TV cameras have been allowed to film inside the facility. Past tours of the facility organized by ICE, including ones that Westword has attended, strictly prohibited filming and recording of any kind.

After seeing the segments the TV stations produced following the tour, Senator Julie Gonzales, who was interviewed for one of the pieces, says that the stations missed the mark with their reporting.

"It is clear to me that the TV media presented this footage without asking questions to fact-check GEO’s claims," says Gonzales, who also serves as the policy director at the immigration law firm Meyer Law Office.

Although Fox31's piece included commentary from Gonzales, the two-minute segment didn't mention the medical issues the facility has grappled with, including quarantines and neglect. In December 2017, Kamyar Samimi, an Iranian detainee with health issues, died while under the care of the detention center's medical staff; an ICE review of his death found several missteps by facility staff.

Nor did it mention the class-action lawsuit a group of former detainees has filed against GEO Group over alleged forced labor, since GEO pays detainees who work in the cafeteria at the Aurora facility and others it manages around the U.S. a dollar a day.

The segment also ignored a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General from June that laid out a variety of issues at the facility, including the automatic use of restraints for individuals in solitary confinement when they're moved outside of their cells; the then-ban on in-person visits; or the outdoor recreation center that isn't actually outdoors.

"It’s important to fact-check every single statement that comes out of any ICE official or any GEO group spokesman’s mouth," says Gonzales. "Fact-check every single statement, investigate, talk to detainees, talk to folks that have recently come out of immigration detention, talk to the folks that have been providing legal advocacy or providing community support to those detainees and their families, because they will tell a very different story."
click to enlarge The recreation space at the Aurora facility. - DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL
The recreation space at the Aurora facility.
Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General
CBS4, for its part, did address concerns about medical care, solitary confinement and the indoor recreation area. The segment also provided Denver ICE field office director John Fabbricatore a chance to defend the rec center and medical care at the facility, as well as its practices around solitary confinement.

But Gonzales says Boyd should have interviewed advocates who've been inside the facility or past detainees.

"It’s important for the public to be able to hear that balanced perspective of, 'Here’s what GEO is saying, but here’s what its detainees say,'" Gonzales says.

Gonzales says those who have been fighting for better conditions at the facility over the decades deserve more praise.

"The fact that GEO is shedding any light at all as to how it operates and giving the public any sort of insight is a direct result of sustained pressure that has come from community activism, that has come from elected officials at every level of government, and from the media fighting for more transparency," she explains.
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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.