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ACLU Report Tells Stories From Inside ICE Detention Facility in Aurora

Esther Honig
In August, ICE opened the detention facility to a group of reporters, including KUNC.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has released areport recounting in detail, eight individual cases of detainees held at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Aurora.

While the stories vary widely, according to the ACLU they share a common theme; the lack of appropriate medical services provided to detainees by ICE and GEO Group, the for-profit company contracted to operate this and several other immigration detention facilities in the U.S.   

The 42-page document is filled with photos and in-depth interviews. There’s Diana Lopez who said she endured excruciating pain from a botched tooth extraction. And Miguel Angel Avila Arce who said his fingers were broken when a guard slammed his hand in a cell door. Some of the interviews are with family, as is the case of Kamyar Samimi, one of two cases in which the individual died while in custody.

Samimi died unexpectedly at 64. His daughter Neda Samimi-Gomez remembers him as a fan of NASCAR and American fast food who held a strong belief in the American dream.

Samimi came to the U.S. in 1976 on a student visa to attend college in Wisconsin and Colorado. He became a legal permanent resident three years later after marrying his first wife. When he was picked up by ICE in 2017, agents informed Samimi it was because he’d been convicted for possessing less than one gram of cocaine 12 years earlier.      

Once in detention in Aurora, Samimi was allegedly cut-off from the methadone prescription he had relied on for 20 years. ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said as Samimi went through withdrawal he was denied adequate medical care and was never taken to a hospital.   

“A private for-profit detention company apparently sees dollar bills flying away when they have to pay for a detainee to go to the hospital,” he said. 

This report aims to illustrate the human stories behind the news headlines and statistics. While it focuses its criticism at a single ICE facility, Silverstein said they hope it will also help the public to see the larger picture, which is immigration detention in the US. 

“People are being held in prison like conditions when they are not convicted of crime,” said Silverstein. “They are not even accused of crime. Being in this country in violation of the immigration laws is not a crime.”

According to the report, GEO Group earned $33.4 million in the last quarter of 2018. But in a statement, ICE maintains that its priority is the health and wellbeing of the detainees. ICE said it spends more than $267 million annually on medical care for inmates.   

In August, ICE opened the detention facility to a group of reporters,including KUNC. The tour included most of the living areas, the kitchen and recreation rooms. It came on the heels of a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General. The agency cited the facility for several issues, including not allowing detainees in-person visitations with family or time outdoors.  

Officials at the Aurora facility said that while any fatality in ICE custody is tragic, the rate at which they occur is very small. In 30 years of operation, two detainee deaths have occurred at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, while they have held tens of thousands of people in custody. 

According to ICE, all detainees receive a physical exam within 14 days of arrival. The medical professionals on staff include licensed nurses and mental health providers, one physician, dental care and access to 24-hour emergency care.

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