Immigrants released from the Aurora prison after COVID case confirmed

Advocates and lawmakers are pressuring ICE to release more.
3 min. read
Casa De Paz volunteer Matthew Donohue speaks Mandarin to help a recently freed migrant get in touch with family elsewhere in the U.S. March 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Update: On Friday afternoon, at least 15 more people were released from the Aurora Contract Detention Facility. Volunteers with the nonprofit Casa De Paz were waiting to help them travel to friends and family elsewhere in the country.

Brook Admassu was one. He arrived in the U.S. last year from Eritrea and spent six months in Aurora waiting for his asylum case to process. He said he was granted legal status, but still he needs to finish some administrative steps. He'll have to go to back court, though for now he's heading to California to stay with family.

"Finally I'm free," he said.

Congressman Jason Crow and a laundry list of elected officials and advocates are demanding that immigrants be released from Aurora's private prison to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And it seems like their efforts are working.

On Thursday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement paroled women from its Aurora prison in response to the novel coronavirus. Laura Lunn, an attorney with the rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, said about 10 people have been released so far. Advocates hope more will follow.

Anne Feldman, a spokeswoman for Crow, said the congressman's office sent ICE a letter on Friday morning, asking that it release immigrants who don't have violent or criminal records and those with compromised health or who are older or pregnant. Reps. Ed Perlmutter, Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse also signed the letter.

"ICE detention centers and their contract facilities are a hotbed for the spread of the coronavirus and are a tremendous threat to the health of the detainees, staff, and community as a whole," Crow said in a prepared statement. "If there are measures we can take to prevent the spread of the virus, we take them. That's how this needs to work."

A man recently freed from ICE's Aurora Contract Detention Facility embraces one of two people who arrived to pick him up. March 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Feldman reiterated that their concern stretches beyond the detention facility: "These staffers go home every night to their families."

Last week, the Colorado People's Alliance and the American Friends Service Committee sent their own letter to local ICE field office Director John Fabbricatore, asking that people inside be granted "humanitarian parole." Hundreds people co-signed it, including Denver City Council members Jamie Torres, Robin Kniech, Amanda Sandoval, Paul Kashmann, Chris Hinds, Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca and six members of Aurora's City Council.

The letter also asked that those who might remain in detention be allowed to access their attorneys, which Lunn said has been a problem since visitation was barred at the facility as a reaction to the pandemic.

So far, ICE says no detainees have tested positive for the virus, though the agency confirmed people inside who may have been exposed to someone who is sick have been separated from the main population as a precautionary measure. This week, an administrative staffer working there tested positive. Nationwide, ICE says there are only two people in its custody with the virus as of Friday morning.

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