AURORA, Colo. — Protesters stood outside of the GEO immigration detention facility in Aurora once again Monday to demand better treatment for detainees.
Protesters bundled up and brought signs and loudspeakers with them to speak about inhumane conditions at the facility. This time, the group says the facility is serving expired food to detainees.
Sandra Hernandez-Perez’s brother Dennis has been at the facility for about three weeks. Hernandez-Perez says her family is from El Salvador but has been in the U.S. for about 10 years, and her brother was picked up by ICE on December 12 after a court hearing in Boulder.
“He was saying that the food is really gross and it smells bad, and it’s not good to eat, and then they had like two days that they didn’t eat anything, nobody ate anything in there because it was really bad,” Hernandez-Perez said.
She has been keeping in touch with her brother, who just turned 19, over the phone, and he says the conditions in the facility are bad.
Her brother also claims that detainees who need medical attention are not being provided enough help.
“My brother he’s like, ‘if they don’t do anything, there’s going to be people dying over here,’” Hernandez-Perez said.
In a statement, ICE said it was made aware of an issue with some of the food being served in one dormitory on January 4.
“(Detainees) notices some of the hamburger buns being served had mold on them and returned their lunch trays to the kitchen. The trays had been prepared by detainees participating in the work program under the supervision of a food service manager, and the hamburger buns, purchased through a contracted food vendor, were well within the perishable dates on the package. Immediately upon learning of the possible contamination, all trays were collected, and new lunches were served. The new lunches were rejected by the detainees a second time, so a sack lunch was provided that contained a different selection of foods,” the statement read.
The statement went on to say that the issue was immediately corrected and that the food preparation team was given additional training to ensure that safety and sanitary practices are followed.
This is not the first time the facility has faced questions over the quality of its food. An Office of Inspector General report found unlabeled, undated food inside of the Aurora facility in 2018.
However, the report considered the violation minor and said it was easily fixable. ICE also noted in that report, which was released in June 2019, that the issue had been corrected, and the staff was counseled on proper food storage.
Rep. Jason Crow, who oversees the district where the GEO facility is located, helped push for Congress to pass the Public Oversight of Detention Centers (POD) Act, which was recently signed into law by President Trump.
“I first took this job early last year. We started to have reports of very disturbing health conditions, disease outbreaks, things that threaten public health of our community at that facility. So, I went to try to conduct an inspection of that facility and was denied access as a member of Congress to a federal facility in my community,” Rep. Crow said.
With the signing of the POD Act, members of Congress and their staff now have access to the facilities to inspect them.
Rep. Crow visited the detention center on Monday for the first time since Congress passed the act; his staff has been paying weekly visits to the facility in what he describes as the first weekly congressional oversight visit of a facility like this in the country.
Rep. Crow said his office was made aware of the moldy buns during Monday’s meeting. After the visit, Congressman Crow’s office told Denver7 it checked the coolers where the food is kept and said they didn’t see any food that was expired.
“One of the things we do look at is the food inspections. We added that to our inspection after receiving those reports. We have not yet seen any issues through those inspections, but we have also heard of those recent reports,” Rep. Crow said.
Rep. Crow’s staff spoke with the kitchen manager as well as ICE staff about receiving and checking food and says it will continue to monitor the situation.
As for Hernandez-Perez, she just wants detainees like her brother to be treated well while they are in ICE custody.
“I would like to tell them that their humans and they need good food, and they need good treatment,” Hernandez-Perez said.