• April 24th, 2024
  • Wednesday, 07:42:20 PM

Immigrants Report Dehumanizing Treatment at Aurora ICE Facility

The ICE detention facility in Aurora. (Photo: Robert Davis for Colorado Newsline)


By Robert Davis


Mateo Lozano was eight years old when his older brother Jaime was deported back to Colombia in 2012.


Neither Lozano, 28, nor his mom could visit Jaime while he was at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Aurora, because they were both undocumented at the time. Instead, Lozano told Colorado Newsline, they would go stand outside the facility so his mom could try to still feel the presence of her son.


Lozano said it took four months for the family to be reunited. Once Jaime came back to the U.S., he shared a harrowing story about his time in Aurora. Lozano said his brother worked as a janitor in the facility making about 10 cents per hour and that some of the guards “treated him like an animal” while he was detained. Jaime was also put in what’s called “isolated detention,” which is like solitary confinement, because he tried to break up a fight between two other immigrants, Lozano said.


“I’d always looked up to my brother as a sort of role model, but here he was being treated like a criminal. Like a murderer, or someone who did something awful to society,” said Lozano.


Lozano’s experience is akin to the affirmations that at least 17 immigrants shared with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition for a recent qualitative study about the living conditions at the Aurora detention center. The study identified broad themes of dehumanizing and potentially racist behavior by ICE agents. It was released as state and federal lawmakers continue to debate legislation to prohibit local governments from providing jail space for undocumented immigrants.


“Jaime’s experience really gave me a different perspective about my place in the U.S. as an immigrant,” Lozano said. “It made me realize that there are a lot of people here who would take away my rights just because they don’t want me in the country.”


Colorado Newsline reached out to ICE for comments about CIRC’s findings and the agency’s plans to address the concerns but did not receive a response.


Colorado’s relationship with federal immigration authorities has become strained, at best, in recent years. In 2019, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill that became known as the state’s sanctuary law. Under the law, local law enforcement cannot detain an individual solely based on a civil immigration detainer. It also prohibits probation officers from sharing their client’s personal information with immigration authorities and prevents law enforcement from interviewing suspected undocumented immigrants in another custodial facility.


However, ICE has skirted that law on multiple occasions. For example, CIRC obtained emails showing that ICE agents and employees at some Colorado Department of Motor Vehicle branches shared information about suspected undocumented immigrants. That information led to multiple arrests between 2018 and 2020.


Then in 2022, the organization found that ICE had contracted with LexisNexis, a New York-based data analytics company, to receive real-time jail booking data from Colorado sheriff’s offices and the whereabouts of immigrants in county jails.


U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Centennial, cited these issues, among others, when he visited Aurora in early April 2023 and called to end private detention centers. GEO Group, a private company that invests in prisons and mental health facilities, has been under contract to operate the Aurora facility since the 1980s. The facility has a capacity to serve more than 1,500 detainees.


“Right now, Colorado taxpayers are helping fund ICE facilities and detention. This runs counter to the values of an overwhelming majority of Coloradans and it’s time to put an end to it.”
State Senator Sonya Jacquez Lewis


Crow added that overseeing ICE’s operations in the state has been difficult because the agency puts on a “dog and pony show” for regulators.


“We gained access to the facility and saw a lot of the things that we had been told about and warned about by the community, and that started my work and our office’s work to try to reform this facility and clean it up as best we could, absent ending private detention centers, which we’re trying to do,” Crow told Colorado Newsline at the time.


To that end, state lawmakers like Democratic Sens. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Sonya Jacquez Lewis of Longmont are currently sponsoring House Bill 23-1100, a bill that would prohibit local governments from entering into their own contracts with private immigration detention facilities. The bill has passed both chambers of the Legislature and needs the governor’s signature to become law.


“Right now, Colorado taxpayers are helping fund ICE facilities and detention,” Jaquez Lewis said in a statement. “This runs counter to the values of an overwhelming majority of Coloradans and it’s time to put an end to it.”


Changed view of the U.S.


Despite these efforts, some immigrants like Lorena Barreras, 37, say the damage has already been done. Her son was 19 years old when he was arrested by local law enforcement in 2020 while working as a painter in Grand Junction. He was arraigned at the Eagle County court and posted bail. However, he was arrested by immigration authorities as he exited the courthouse, transferred to the Aurora ICE facility, and eventually deported, even though he was never convicted of a crime, Barreras said.


Barreras adds that her family is still reeling from that event. She still cries whenever she thinks about her son wearing the orange jumpsuit and shackles. Her two younger children also cry about missing their brother because he used to help them with their homework and took them to soccer practice, Barreras said.


“It was really scary for him to be arrested at that time because it was during COVID and he was suffering from a lot of tooth pain,” Barreras said, adding that officials at the Aurora ICE center removed multiple teeth from her son’s mouth instead of getting him dental help.


Barreras said that her son’s experience also changed the way she views the U.S. When she immigrated in 2007, she saw the U.S. as a country where she could give her children a better life. Now, she sees the U.S. as a country where immigrants experience rampant racism and can’t trust the police.


“I really want my son to be able to have his record cleaned up so he can come back to the U.S., and we can be a family again,” Barreras said. “It strikes me as really unfair, and I think it’s a reflection that our laws aren’t always just.”



Robert Davis is a Freelance Journalist. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.