ICE transfers, immigrant detention protested at Aurora facility

More than a dozen COVID-19 cases among detainees confirmed

Protesters marching
People march to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility during a July 18 protest organized by Abolish ICE Denver. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Following Saturday activities that included an art market, live music and sign-making, several dozen protesters made their way to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, immigration detention center in Aurora.

“No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all!” they chanted as they marched. Outside an exterior gate blocking entrance to the facility, which is run by private company GEO Group, they shouted at guards who were barely visible through the glass doors: “No borders, no nation, no racist deportation!”

Social media promotion of the daylong event on July 18, organized by the community group Abolish ICE Denver, focused on transfers of people out of the center to other detention facilities.

Activists highlighted the case of Pablo Makleen Grijalva — who, they say, was transferred from the Aurora Contract Detention Facility to the Teller County Jail during his 30-day window to appeal a deportation order.

The transfer “further isolates” Makleen Grijalva from his wife, who is a U.S. citizen, and his 7-year-old daughter, “who have been fighting for his release for over 6 months,” according to a statement from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

COVID-19 cases confirmed at ICE facility

ICE doesn’t release data on detainee transfers, but a recent Reuters analysis identified 268 transfers of detainees between detention centers from April through June, half of which “involved detainees who were either moved from centers with COVID-19 cases to centers with no known cases, or from centers with no cases to those where the virus had spread.”

Those transfers were probably a “small fraction” of the total number, Reuters noted.

The Teller County Sheriff’s Office has maintained contracts with ICE to hold immigration detainees despite a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union that accused it of violating Colorado law through the practice. The lawsuit was dismissed by a Teller County District Court Judge, but the ACLU filed an appeal in May.

Outbreak data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment showed 15 cases of lab-confirmed COVID-19 among Aurora ICE detainees, along with three confirmed cases and one probable case among staff as of July 15. No deaths have been recorded as part of the outbreak.

However, a July 8 report issued by ICE at the request of Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colorado, showed different numbers: 21 total cases among detainees, two among ICE employees and 12 among GEO employees. A reason for the discrepancy was not immediately clear.

Since May, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed at the facility, a group of people have been camped outside in tents to protest what they say are unsafe conditions.

ICE began offering voluntary testing June 9 to all current detainees and new admissions at the facility, according to a June 24 statement from the agency.

“The health and welfare of individuals in ICE custody continues to be a top priority for ICE,” John Fabbricatore, Denver field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in the statement. “ICE has taken numerous steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but offering this voluntary testing shows how the agency is using all resources available to ensure the safety of our detained population.”