Update: A second ICE employee was later diagnosed with COVID-19, according to ICE’s website.
A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Denverite that an “administrative staff, not an agent” who works at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility tested positive for COVID-19. She said the employee does not come into contact with detainees in his or her job, and the person hasn’t come to work for a week due to their illness.
Still, Teresa Kaltenbacher, spokesperson for the federal Executive Office for Immigration Review, said deportation hearings would be suspended at the facility Thursday “as a precautionary measure.”
On Wednesday, a small crowd gathered outside the facility, protesting what they said were “unjust conditions inside.” Activists have long alleged medical mistreatment inside the facility, which is run by one of the largest private prison companies in the world.
Immigration hearings at the federal courthouse downtown have been suspended since March 17, after a local judge exhibited possible symptoms of coronavirus. Hearings in Aurora continued, much to the displeasure of attorneys working feverishly to get people out as it became clear the pandemic was going to be a big deal.
Laura Lunn, an attorney with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), told Denverite last week that the outbreak has had a “huge impact” on status hearings. Because visitation had been cut off, another precautionary measure, she said people had difficulty getting in touch with their attorneys and family members and accessing evidentiary documents to bring before judges.
Lunn said the hearings should have stopped sooner, given the difficulties people have had, because their time in court “will determine the entire outcome of their lives.”
She and her colleagues have been working to get people out on bail or parole to avoid the virus.
“It’s fine until it’s not fine,” she said. “As soon as there’s one case, it’s gonna be really really hard for them to contain it.”
The ICE spokesperson said it’s “very difficult” to keep things operating as normal because “anybody walking into the facility has the potential to bring something in with them.”
Last week, ICE said 10 people detained in Aurora were separated from the main population after “reports of a possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.” The agency says no detainees there have yet tested positive for the virus. Nationwide, one person detained in ICE custody has been confirmed with a positive diagnosis at Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, NJ.