A large protest set to take place Friday, July 12, from 7 to 9 p.m. outside the immigrant detention facility in Aurora is expected to draw more than a thousand people.
"We want to close down the detention center, and we want them to release these immigrants to their families or sponsors," says protest organizer Patty Lampman. The facility in Aurora is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The demonstration is tied to a worldwide call to action known as Lights for Liberty; as of July 8, 626 Lights for Liberty protests have been planned across the globe, including hundreds in the U.S. and in at least 25 countries. At 9 p.m. at each location, protesters will simultaneously light candles or shine their cell phones.
Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, a New York-based career coach and women's leadership trainer, started planning the Lights for Liberty events just under a month ago after listening to a firsthand account from an attorney friend who visited Customs and Border Protection camps along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We do not need to be running concentration camps in this country to address migration and refugee status," says Cronise McLaughlin. The event was originally intended to take place in a handful of cities, like New York and San Diego. But then activists began reaching out, wanting to plan similar events in their home towns. "It grew at an exponential rate. This is a worldwide movement," she says.
A separate event, dubbed the March to Close the Concentration Camps and hosted by Colorado socialist and anti-ICE groups, will also happen on July 12 at the Aurora detention center but will begin at 6 p.m. and merge into the Lights for Liberty protest.
In addition to Lampman, the Aurora Lights for Liberty event is being organized by the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, American Friends Service Committee, multiple chapters of Indivisible and the ACLU of Colorado. There will be similar events in Cortez, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Lafayette, Fort Collins, Glenwood Springs, Grand Junction, Boulder and Durango.
"I've been attending vigils outside of GEO for almost ten years now. This is the first time I'm seeing people wanting to understand the intricacies of medical code and policy within the GEO facility," says Ana Temu, immigration campaign coordinator at the ACLU of Colorado. "It's really refreshing to know that you're not the only person really interested in what those intricacies and small details are."
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Colorado has been hit by a wave of protests focusing on immigration in recent weeks. On June 21, over 200 protesters demonstrated outside of the GEO detention facility in Aurora, which has been plagued by allegations of medical neglect and sub-par living conditions. A week after that, protesters gathered outside Boulder-based BI Incorporated, a GEO Group-owned company that manufactures electronic monitoring devices. Days later, protesters returned to the Aurora facility, this time accompanied by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser for a Jewish prayer protest.
Much of the public outcry regarding immigration detention has focused on the CBP facilities along the border, many of which temporarily house children.
"The horrible conditions of confinement within our detention center might grab some people's attention now. But we really need to keep their attention for three months, six months, a year from now," says Temu.
Elected officials from Colorado are also pushing for more oversight of detention centers. In June, four members of Aurora City Council issued a statement condemning conditions at the Aurora facility. Also in June, Congressman Joe Neguse called for a congressional oversight hearing to investigate GEO Group-run immigrant detention facilities. Earlier this week, Congressman Jason Crow, whose district includes Aurora, announced that his office will start inspecting the facility on a weekly basis.