U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver on Monday highlighted concerns from women detainees at the GEO private immigration detention facility in Aurora and joined Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House calling to close the facility.
DeGette joined U.S. Reps. Jason Crow of Aurora, Joe Neguse of Boulder and Ed Perlmutter of Arvada during the tour, which started around noon on Monday.
Following the tour, the elected officials called for an end to for-profit detention facilities like the one in Aurora. Crow said the majority of detainees are being held after seeking asylum or on immigration-related charges.
DeGette said the facility needs to provide better health and medical care for detainees — or close.
“We need to close this facility. We should not be having private detention facilities in the United States of America,” DeGette said.
The center is not in her district, but DeGette said she’s interested in issues impacting her constituents and people throughout the region.
“I worry about refugees throughout my district and throughout the whole area,” DeGette told Denverite. “People from my district have loved ones or friends who are here, so we should all be thinking about it.”
DeGette said she plans on visiting a refugee resettlement facility for children near San Antonio, Texas next week. DeGette is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the U.S. Health & Human Services Department, which in turn oversees the Office of Refugee and Resettlement. She visited immigrant facilities in Texas last year, including visiting a tender-care facility for kids.
The elected officials said the treatment of women at the facility is a concern.
DeGette said the women’s unit has 48 women in one dormitory. Overall, however, DeGette called the facility “clean” during their scheduled visit.
Crow said he had previously tried showing up to the facility unannounced in February.
“Compared to the border, it’s a much better situation,” Perlmutter said about the conditions in the facility. He said the women were housed in a space about the size of a “half-sized gymnasium.”
“I don’t think that’s good policy and I don’t think that’s what we want in America,” he added.
DeGette said one woman they spoke to said she had been there for a year and a half. Crow had earlier said the facility is intended to be a short-term holding facility.
“Some of those women ask for aspirin for headaches or for menstrual cramps and they didn’t get any kind of medical response for a week,” DeGette said. “Well, that’s not going to solve that problem.”
A statement from an ICE spokesperson to Denverite on Monday said the facility provides “comprehensive medical care” for detainees from arrival and throughout their stay. It adds that these places meet standards outlined by their contracts with the facilities and with the National Detention Standards and the Performance-Based National Detention Standards
“ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care,” the statement reads. “The agency is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”
The delegation’s visit on Monday was part of Crow’s weekly oversight visits and happened to coincide with Vice President Mike Pence’s scheduled visit to two fundraisers in Colorado.
Last week, reports surfaced that Pence would be visiting the facility in Aurora, though sources told CPR last week the planned tour had been canceled. Crow on Monday invited Pence to join one of the tours.
“We would reiterate our open invitation to anyone who wants to come and join us in our transparency and oversight, whether that be the president, vice president any member of the House or the Senate,” Crow said. “We think government works best when it’s open and transparent.”
Two weeks ago, Pence became the highest-ranking member of the Trump administration to visit a federal migrant detention center.
The visit to the Texas facility provided a national spotlight on the troublesome conditions some migrants are living in while in federal custody. Similarly, the privately-run facility in Aurora has been marred with concerns about detainee treatment and disease outbreaks.
It’s these concerns that led Crow, whose district includes Aurora, to begin weekly visits. Crow said Monday’s visit was part of a large effort to bring “oversight and accountability” to the facility.
“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.”
Activists and supporters of immigrant advocate Jeanette Vizguerra were outside the Aurora facility on Monday and announced a list of demands for the elected officials.
Another key figure in President Trump’s White House, his daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump, visited Littleton on Monday to speak at an event hosted by Lockheed Martin.