Immigration advocacy groups filed a complaint last week with the Department of Homeland Security’s oversight bodies urging an investigation into the increased use and misuse of solitary confinement—including threats of retaliation against detained people—at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado.
The American Immigration Council, the National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The complaint filed on behalf of people who are currently or were recently detained in ICE custody at the Aurora facility describes how ICE and GEO Group has jeopardized the health and safety of detained individuals, failed to protect those who suffered violence or fear violence, and misused solitary confinement to control and punish detained people rather than providing a safe environment and adequate medical and mental health care.
One individual highlighted in the complaint, Felix* was placed in solitary confinement for three days for eating too slowly and forced into solitary confinement an additional 10 times during his detention in Aurora before ICE transferred him to another facility. He stated, “If I spoke too loudly, solitary. If I climbed on top of a table to get a guard’s attention, solitary. If I had suicidal thoughts, solitary. When the guards would tease me about being deported back to my home country and make airplane sounds at me and gesture like a plane was taking me away, I would become upset and then get solitary for being upset.”
The endemic dehumanizing culture within the Aurora facility is heartless, abusive, and dangerous.”
Laura Lunn, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
The complaint also describes safety concerns of survivors of assault or violence, the punishment of individuals for having a disability, and the pattern of placing individuals with disabilities at risk of self-harm in solitary confinement. It also alleges GEO’s failure to ensure professional conduct by its staff, jeopardizing the safety of those detained at the Aurora facility.
An individual identified in the complaint as Lauren*—who has severe anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder related to past harm endured—was placed in solitary confinement for six days after a woman in her dorm falsely accused her of spitting on her bed. During her time in isolation, she experienced hallucinations and reports that confinement was worsened by a sewer problem, causing sewage water to come up from the toilet in her cell, with her complaints being ignored. Lauren states, “I hadn’t seen shadows or heard voices in a long time, but those symptoms started coming back when I was in the SHU [Special Housing Unit]. I was alone and hallucinating and scared.”
The complaint—which contains declarations of eight people detained at or recently released from the Aurora facility describing personal experiences that reflect a breach of ICE’s duty to ensure safety—also calls for systemic reform to prevent further abuse and harm, urging the immediate and permanent termination of the contract allowing the operation of the Aurora facility and the release of all individuals detained there.
“ICE is responsible for the safety of detained individuals, which it has repeatedly demonstrated it cannot provide. The egregious use of solitary confinement is detrimental to detained individuals’ mental and physical well-being,” said Rebekah Wolf, senior policy counsel at the American Immigration Council. “Despite a documented history of abuse and numerous deaths at the Aurora facility, this complaint illustrates the systemic failure by ICE to ensure a safe environment for the people they detain. The misuse and overuse of solitary confinement leaves people in detention fearful to report safety concerns for fear of its punitive use, and without recourse to protect themselves.”
Another individual, Daniel,* who has a chronic disease that limits one or more major life activities, describes a specific incident when the facility failed to accommodate his disability, stating: “[T]he lieutenant came and told me that I had to sleep in the top bunk bed or else I would go to solitary confinement. The lieutenant told me to get a medical reason for not being able to sleep in the top bunk bed. I told him the reason was in the medical records, and he told me he would not review anything to prove the medical reason. I was forced to sleep in the top bunk bed, and I could not get down until my dorm roommates got me down. I missed most of the meals on Sunday. On Tuesday, I [requested] another medical report that stated that I could not sleep in the top bunk bed.”
“The endemic dehumanizing culture within the Aurora facility is heartless, abusive, and dangerous. The people—mothers, brothers, grandchildren—featured in this complaint demonstrate immeasurable bravery by stepping forward to share their experiences and provide examples of systemic mistreatment that time and again violate ICE’s own policies as well as federal disability rights law. They deserve better,” said Laura Lunn, director of advocacy & litigation at Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “It is also important to highlight that this is happening in the state of Colorado, a place that works diligently to provide a welcoming and hospitable refuge to immigrants, migrants, and refugees. This complaint underscores that our local and state governments cannot prevent this type of harmful treatment as long as ICE operates in our communities.”
“The record of abuse and mistreatment at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, from use and over-use of solitary confinement to sub-standard medical care, to lack of accommodation for persons with disabilities is long and haunting. The oversight bodies of the Department of Homeland Security have a responsibility to, once and for all, put an end to the cruelty ICE imposes every day on people detained at the Aurora Facility by terminating the contract that allows the facility to operate,” said Ann García, staff attorney at the National Immigration Project.
A copy of the complaint is here.
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