Op Ed: Shut Down GEO Aurora and Dismantle ICE

The Denver Contract Detention Facility, ICE's detention center in Aurora, is managed by the GEO Group.
The Denver Contract Detention Facility, ICE's detention center in Aurora, is managed by the GEO Group. Anthony Camera
To anybody with a heart, news of President Donald Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda has been overwhelming. The president has canceled Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of migrants, introduced a xenophobic Muslim ban, and ended DACA for thousands of young people. These are only some of the actions the administration has taken in its wholesale attack against immigrants. With Trump-appointed (and Colorado native) Neil Gorsuch on board, the Supreme Court has also overturned “Rodriguez bonds,” which in some federal court districts allowed immigrant detainees to request bond hearings. And Congress had awarded Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased budgets for detentions while interior apprehensions have increased.

Here in Colorado, the attack against immigrants and the ramping up of the detention and deportation machine has continued. ICE agents have been apprehending permanent residents and undocumented migrants in the hallways of Denver’s public courthouses following hearings for civic infractions including traffic violations. Similarly, ICE officials have been targeting local leaders, including Eliseo Jurado, as retaliation for speaking out against their cruel and unjust tactics.

ICE detention has been the biggest affront to justice. For decades, immigrants detained have reported many abuses at ICE detention centers. At ICE-contracted facilities, especially those run by GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the rap sheet has been long. There have been cases of disease, infection and death due to insufficient medical attention, spoiled food, excessive use of solitary confinement, and other human rights abuses. Detainees complain of lack of natural light, little time for outside recreation, and a lack of respect and professionalism from many guards. Some have complained of lack of access to legal counsel and to phones. Immigrants often face indefinite detentions in these conditions.

The 1,500-bed ICE Processing Center in Aurora, contracted to GEO since 1986, is the worst sore on our regional sense of liberty and justice. In 2010, critics called attention to the “cattle call” conditions of mass confinement there.

Last year, guards and officials there were accused of pressuring Iraqi immigrants to self-deport and regularly insulting them with racist epithets. And also last year, an Iranian detainee there died under suspicious circumstances. GEO’s most high-profile problem of late, however, has been its forced labor practices. In February 2018, U.S. Federal Judge John L. Kane granted class action status to a suit brought against GEO Aurora in 2014. Alleging that GEO Aurora officials forced labor on as many as 60,000 detainees for no pay and gross underpayment for another 2,000, the case is represented by nine named plaintiffs. The plaintiffs allege that GEO policy forced detainees to complete mandatory chores including cleaning windows and walls, scrubbing toilets and sinks, and cleaning and sweeping floors. Those who refused, they claim, faced solitary confinement. Ultimately, the plaintiffs are asking for $5 million in damages to be distributed to the 62,000 detainees who over the last twelve years supplemented the labor of a single GEO Aurora custodial employee.

Enough is enough. This need not be a country that mercilessly separates families and disrupts communities based on xenophobic immigration policy. There are many ways to resist today’s immigration enforcement regime. Federally, we can work to #DefundHate by defunding ICE. We can argue with our legislative representatives about the particulars of immigration and detention policy. We can work to dismantle the system. Closer to home, we can work to limit municipal and county contracts with private prison companies. We must continue the fight for immigrants’ rights, especially the rights of those detained at the GEO facility.

If you would like to learn about how you can participate in the struggle for detained immigrants, attend the people’s tribunal to be held in Del Mar Park at 2 p.m. on May 18. Members of Detention Watch Network, along with AFSC-CO, will be hosting the event as part of the ongoing #ICEonTrial campaign. This tribunal is the last of ten coordinated actions across the country meant to highlight voices and experiences of people currently detained. It will include testimonies from those currently detained at GEO, poetry and musical performances, as well as an opportunity to plug into other local anti-detention efforts.

Jennifer Cullison, a member of the Detention Watch Network, just completed her Ph.D. in history at the University of Colorado Boulder. Much of this op-ed piece stems from her research for her dissertation, titled "The Growth of Immigrant Caging in Postwar America."

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