For Immediate Release
July 13, 2023
Arianna Rosales, National Immigration Project, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maria Frausto, American Immigration Council, email@example.com
Laura Lunn, Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, July 13, 2023—Immigration advocacy groups filed a complaint today 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 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.
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.”
“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.”
“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 Garcia, staff attorney at the National Immigration Project.
A copy of the complaint is here.
The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. In January 2022, the Council and New American Economy merged to combine a broad suite of advocacy tools to better expand and protect the rights of immigrants, more fully ensure immigrants’ ability to succeed economically, and help make the communities they settle in more welcoming. Follow the latest Council news and information on ImmigrationImpact.com and Twitter @immcouncil.
The National Immigration Project (NIPNLG) is a membership organization of attorneys, advocates, and community members who are driven by the belief that all people should be treated with dignity, live freely, and flourish. We litigate, advocate, educate, and build bridges across movements to ensure that those who bear the brunt of racist criminal and immigration systems are uplifted and supported. Learn more at nipnlg.org. Follow NIPNLG on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @NIPNLG.
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Colorado, that works to ensure justice for adults and children in immigration proceedings. RMIAN empowers people through education of legal rights; provides zealous no-cost immigration legal representation to uphold fundamental fairness and due process; promotes the importance of universal representation where anyone in immigration proceedings has access to counsel despite financial barriers; and advocates for a more efficient, functional, and humane immigration system, including an end to immigration detention. Learn more about RMIAN’s work at rmian.org, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @rmian_org.