Activists to Hold First Vigil at GEO Facility Since Controversial July 12 Protest

Activists to Hold First Vigil at GEO Facility Since Controversial July 12 Protest
Erin McCarley
Immigration-rights activists have been holding vigils with a few dozen participants outside of the immigrant detention facility in Aurora for a decade. But today, August 5, they are expecting a much larger turnout at the quarterly vigil, which will include testimony from people who have been detained in the facility.

"What’s interesting about this next one is, traditionally we have maybe forty to fifty people come, but considering what else has been happening, I assume this one will have quite a bit more interest," says Dana Miller of Indivisible Front Range Resistance.

Miller is referencing the increasing number of people across the U.S. who are paying attention to federal immigration enforcement in light of Donald Trump's controversial policies. A growing number of Denver metro residents have become concerned about the privately run immigrant detention facility that houses over 1,300 detainees right in Aurora. (The facility is run by private prison company GEO Group through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

The more intense focus on immigration policies is what led to the 1,000-plus person protest outside of the GEO facility on July 12 that made national headlines. Organizers of the demonstration expected it to be a march combined with a vigil. But around 100 protesters removed an American flag, GEO Group flag and Colorado flag from above the facility, replacing them with a Mexican flag and two anti-police flags. Conservative media outlets and Republicans were quick to criticize the protest and those who participated, and the Aurora Police Department has issued a summons for charges related to the removal and desecration of the flag.

The fallout from the protest also led to infighting between some of the more radical leftist activists who were outside of the facility that evening and other organizers of the protest.

Miller says she doesn't expect today's protest to turn out like July's. "We want to keep attention on the detention center and listen to impacted people."

And by keeping attention on impacted people, activists feel they can effect change.

"It’s important to draw attention to the general public about what people can do about for profit detention centers that profit from pain. I think a lot of people feel powerless. That’s not true. We actually have power to change quite a bit," says Jordan Garcia of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the groups organizing the vigil.

Congressman Jason Crow, whose district includes Aurora, is pushing for legislation to strengthen congressional oversight of immigrant detention facilities; his office is also inspecting the Aurora facility on a weekly basis. Crow, Congressman Joe Neguse and other Democrats want to hold a congressional oversight hearing on GEO Group and its detention facilities.

Today's vigil will begin at 6 p.m. and last until 7:30; find more details here.
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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.