AURORA, Colo. – Colorado’s four Democratic U.S. representatives toured the GEO Group-owned ICE detention facility in Aurora Monday, visiting a women’s dormitory at the facility, among others, in what they said was an effort to hold the private company and the Trump administration accountable for the conditions in which more than 1,200 immigrants are being held.
Reps. Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Joe Neguse and Ed Perlmutter hosted a news conference outside the facility after the tour, and several of them discussed their ongoing effort to put an end to privately-operated prisons and detention centers.
The tour was the first all four had done together but is part of an ongoing effort by Crow to visit the facility every week. The lawmakers said Monday that their boots-on-the-ground visit was the only way to hold ICE and the Trump administration accountable and to improve conditions at immigration facilities.
They said that there were 48 women housed in one dorm, which they said was about half the size of a gymnasium, inside the women’s unit. Several women told the Democrats it had taken between one and three weeks to get aspirin recently to treat aches and menstrual cramps, they said Monday.
Perlmutter said there were 1,237 people being housed in the facility as of Monday, and all four lawmakers said they were told many of those people were asylum seekers brought to Colorado from the border – not immigrants with criminal convictions or deportation orders.
Crow said about 800 of those people were being held after seeking asylum or on immigration charges for entering the country at the border.
The lawmakers lamented what they said were longer-than-necessary stays of up to six months for immigrants who did not have a criminal history and said the Aurora facility was “not designed for long-term housing.”
The tour came on the same day The Washington Post first reported that the Trump administration would use a deportation process that bypasses immigration judges to deport any undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally within the past two years.
DeGette called for a more expeditious processing facility for people without criminal offenses so they could be released on bond while their asylum claims are pending.
Neguse and the others said the Trump administration needed to commit more resources for judicial disposition in those cases, and Perlmutter said House Democrats had worked with Republicans to put another 240 immigration judges into the immigration bill passed earlier this month – though most will be sent to the border facilities.
The Democrats were also told that the facility did not have its top two health positions filled currently – the health services administrator and the deputy administrator. Crow also said the facility had a psychologist vacancy it was trying to fill as well. He said the facility currently has one psychologist and one clinical social worker serving the facility.
The lawmakers said that they didn’t believe GEO Group had people’s best interests in mind and pointed to the company’s multi-billion-dollar profits from last year and years past. They also said that the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including family separation and a zero-tolerance policy, were doing further harm.
“I think the president’s immigration policies … are not what I believe makes up America,” Perlmutter said.
“How do we want to act as a country about people presenting themselves for asylum and being shipped to places like this?” DeGette said. “That’s a fundamental question we need to answer as a country.”
The lawmakers said there were people from 60 different countries at the ICE facility in Aurora, and said the overarching immigration issue was not simply a Mexico or Central American issue.
“We have to have a national conversation and the Congress needs to have a conversation about whether that system comports with our sense of humanity and decency, and our status in this country as a place that welcomes immigrants,” Neguse said.
The lawmakers continued to push Crow’s Public Oversight of Detention Centers (POD) Act, which would allow members of Congress to visit immigration detention facilities within 48 hours of their request.
But they also thanked ICE for facilitating Monday’s visit, which Crow said that Vice President Mike Pence was originally supposed to attend as well but did not. Perlmutter of Arvada said his visit alleviated some concerns.
"Everything's in comparison to something else,” Perlmutter said. “And in comparison to the border, it's a much better situation."
Acting ICE Director Matt Albence was in Denver to visit ICE officers and meet with employees but was not connected to the congressional delegation, a spokesperson said.
The lawmakers said they would continue to visit the facility in order to maintain transparency.
“The truth is, we don’t expect this administration to act and hold ICE accountable,” Crow said. This is a boots-on-the-ground effort to fill in those gaps of oversight and ensure we are doing everything we can to increase oversight and improve conditions at these facilities.”