Members of the Doctors for Camp Closure, Colorado People’s Alliance, the American Friends Service Committee, and Abolish ICE attempted to deliver 500 face masks to people detained at Aurora’s for-profit GEO Group Detention Center on May 18.
The GEO Group, Inc. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) refused to accept the certified surgical masks for detainees.
“Colorado needs to step in and require transparency from immigrant detention. GEO/ICE have no regard for the lives they are detaining,” stated Colorado People’s Alliance, in a facebook post featuring a video on May 18 at the Detention Center.
Community members detained at the GEO Group consistently report the corporation’s failure to protect the health and well-being of the people ICE chooses to detain there.
“I’m here protecting my community as much as I can, yet my husband is in detention and his life is at risk,” says Claudia Robles, a leader with COPA and Colorado medical assistant serving on the frontlines whose husband is being detained by ICE at GEO “My husband is at high risk for COVID. He has asthma and I worry about him every day, every second, every time I take care of a COVID patient.”
“I joined this action because I, as a medical professional, have a responsibility to our larger community” explains Sarah Josephson, a Colorado pediatric sleep technologist. “I have a moral obligation to first do no harm and that means doing everything in our power to free our immigrant neighbors and friends held by ICE. Until we can free them to safety, we must ensure detention is not a death sentence.”
“Colorado needs to step in and require transparency from immigrant detention. GEO/ICE have no regard for the lives they are detaining.”
Colorado People’s Alliance
Over the last month, people from multiple pods at the GEO Group Detention Center organized hunger strikes to protest the lack of basic precautionary measures, such as supplying those incarcerated with face coverings as well as ICE rejecting requests for humanitarian parole for those with high risk conditions like diabetes and asthma.
The conditions in the immigration jail have consistently been substandard but since the COVID-19 outbreak have only deteriorated. The government’s own Office of Inspector General detailed multiple violations there just last year. The current lack of access to medical attention and failure to support hygiene precautions are dangerous and negligent. The actions of ICE and GEO Group have turned a bad situation into a critical emergency,” said Feven Berhanu of the Colorado People’s Alliance. “That’s why we support passing a bill that gives the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the authority to inspect facilities that detain immigrants. We need every level of government to intervene and hold the agency and the corporation accountable while we work to enact fair and humane immigration policies.”
The coronavirus has been especially deadly in prisons, jails and detention centers across the US; keeping people confined in close spaces has made it easy for the virus to spread. Public health experts have called for releasing large numbers of community members to avoid a significant loss of life, but ICE has failed to do so. In just the last week, two people detained by ICE have died of COVID-19, with 943 people testing positive out of 1788 tested as of May 13 (53%). Epidemiological models estimate that at least 70% of people detained by ICE could contract the virus; another model warns that overall, mass incarceration could lead to an additional 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
“They are currently putting the lives of all of those detained here and all of those who work here in jeopardy with their inexcusable safety practices. As healthcare workers we know that the only safe way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in ICE detention is to release all people detained. We cannot stand by as people die in detention,” affirmed Danielle Loeb, MD, MPH, primary care physician. “Today we are delivering these masks to provide the people inside added protection from disease while we await the real needed change – an end to immigration detention. Release of all is needed as soon as possible because COVID-19 in detention facilities is a public health emergency.”
Jordan García, Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee explains “ICE’s Colorado Field Office Director John Fabricatorre has the authority to release all migrants detained at the GEO Group Detention Center, and it is especially urgent that he do so now. Not doing so risks the facility becoming a hotspot for the whole of the Metro area.”
ICE systematically deprives tens of thousands of immigrants of liberty, creating a system of detention across the country which did not exist a few decades ago. Detention – both private facilities and government-run – is rife with medical neglect and had seen multiple deaths from medical neglect even prior to COVID-19. ICE has always had extensive power to free detained immigrants. As part of broader efforts to end mass incarceration, immigrant rights advocates have long called for the ending of immigration detention and for resources to be redirected to health and housing.
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