Three more people who work at the immigrant detention facility in Aurora have tested positive for COVID-19. They're all employees of private prison company GEO Group, which runs the facility through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and are quarantining at home, according to the company.
"Based on a contact investigation conducted in partnership with the Tri-County Health Department, none of the employees who tested positive appear to have had any interactions with detainees that would have left them exposed to the coronavirus," says GEO Group spokesperson Pablo Paez.
The positive tests for the three GEO Group employees brings the number of workers at the ICE facility who have tested positive for COVID-19 to five. Earlier, two ICE employees who work at the facility, including one whose job involves contact with detainees, tested positive for COVID-19.
A handful of detainees at the facility have been tested for COVID-19. According to both ICE and Geo Group, none of the tests have come back positive. In late March, a pod of close to eighty detainees was quarantined because of possible exposure to either COVID-19 or influenza.
Throughout the pandemic, local ICE officials have not responded to questions about the number of individuals quarantined or the number of detainees who have been tested.
Immigration attorneys say that they, like their clients, have been largely left in the dark about what's been happening at the facility; detainees feel like they're sitting ducks and are beginning to panic, according to the lawyers.
Since March 24, attorneys have filed at least four habeas corpus petitions to get their clients out of the Aurora facility, which some see as a COVID-19 disaster waiting to happen. One client was released not long after a petition was filed, so lawyers voluntarily dismissed that one. The three others remain pending.
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"The potential for the spread of one of these outbreaks within that detention facility may have significant casualties," Carlos Franco-Paredes, an infectious-disease doctor with the University of Colorado, had previously told Westword, noting that a major outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the facility could overwhelm nearby hospitals.
Lawsuits seeking release of vulnerable detainees from ICE custody have been filed in various federal courts throughout the country; some have been successful. Across the U.S., nineteen ICE detainees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Democratic members of Colorado's congressional delegation have also been pushing for ICE to release vulnerable detainees, such as older individuals or those with compromised immune systems.
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"We write with serious concerns about the public health risks of detainees at detention facilities operated by [ICE] and contract facilities nationwide during the coronavirus outbreak. We believe that the COVID-19 outbreak across the country merits an evaluation of existing procedures regarding humanitarian parole," states a March 27 letter from Congressman Jason Crow, which was co-signed by representatives Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Joe Neguse.
Besides calling for the immediate release of people detained only for immigration offenses, the four Colorado representatives asked Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE, to consider all detainees with non-violent criminal charges or convictions for parole, so long as they "do not pose a public safety risk." They also implored Albence to make sure that ICE employees "inform all detainees of their right to seek humanitarian release."
ICE recently notified congressional offices that it's telling field offices to reassess detainees and consider releasing those who may be at a higher risk for contracting serious cases of COVID-19, BuzzFeed News reports.
ICE "decided to reduce the population of all detention facilities to 75 percent or less to increase social distancing," according to an update on the ICE website. "Detention facilities may also increase social distancing by having staggered meals and recreation times in order to limit the number of detainees gathered together."