DENVER – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers operate without meaningful accountability or oversight. One facility in particular — the Aurora Contract Detention Facility (ACDF), operated by the for-profit prison company, The GEO Group, Inc. — violates the basic human rights of its mainly asylum-seeking detainees through medical neglect and abuse, which has led to at least two deaths, according to a report released today by the ACLU of Colorado.
Cashing in on Cruelty: Stories of Death, Abuse and Neglect at the GEO Immigration Detention Facility in Aurora is based on a nine-month ACLU of Colorado investigation, which included a lawsuit against ICE under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for records about Mr. Samimi’s death and interviews with dozens of victims of mistreatment. The investigation revealed numerous stories of medical incompetence, dental neglect, inadequate mental healthcare, lack of accommodations for detainees with disabilities, as well as substandard care that contributed to the suffering and death of Kamyar Samimi, a Lawful Permanent Resident for more than 40 years.
The report finds: “Mr. Samimi’s tragic death reflects the atrocious conditions at ACDF, which holds close to 1,500 detainees, most of whom are in civil immigration proceedings. Having come to the U.S in search of a better life, they are confined without access to sufficient medical care, adequate nutrition, legal resources or in many cases basic human decency.”
“On the first day of Mr. Samimi’s incarceration, GEO’s physician ordered that Mr. Samimi be cut off from the methadone he had been legally taking for 20 years, thus forcing Mr. Samimi to endure the all-consumingly painful, debilitating and life-threatening torture of opioid withdrawal,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “That decision was medically unjustifiable, yet none of the internal investigations and reviews ACLU obtained through FOIA raise even a single question about the physician’s role in precipitating the ugly and ultimately fatal consequences that ensued.”
According to Cashing in on Cruelty, the conditions in ICE detention, including those at ACDF, have drawn criticism from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, legislators and advocacy groups. Yet ICE has failed to hold GEO accountable or otherwise improve the conditions of immigration detention. Following an initial glossing-over by GEO, an ICE internal review of Mr. Samimi’s December 2017 death found numerous violations of ICE standards. Nonetheless, in early 2019, ICE reached an agreement with GEO to increase the capacity of ACDF to 1,500, even as detainees sat in quarantines with only one full-time physician on staff. Regardless of these deficiencies, GEO is valued at more than $2.3 billion while detainees languish in its Aurora facility, in some cases for years.
ACLU of Colorado is able to shine a spotlight on the abuses inside after visiting the facility multiple times and interviewing dozens of individuals victimized by GEO and ICE’s mistreatment, including one asylum seeker who suffered a severe toothache but was never taken to see the dentist despite several requests. Eventually, the pain got so bad that she felt she had no choice but to pull out her own tooth. The other women in her pod had to help clean her up.
“Ms. Smith’s* story is just one of the many brutal and shocking examples we heard of medical neglect at ACDF,” said ACLU of Colorado Public Policy Director Denise Maes. “From insufficient dental care to medical incompetence it’s clear that ICE and GEO lack both the will and the ability to provide even the most basic level of care.”
Cashing in on Cruelty provides a set of recommendations to improve state and local policy, including increased oversight and accountability of ACDF, divesting from investments in private detention operators like GEO, funding for legal counsel and bond money for detainees and limiting local cooperation with ICE. The policy brief enumerates ways that Colorado cities, counties and the state should respond to the expansion of private immigration detention centers to improve conditions of confinement and reduce the number of people who end up separated from their families and communities or worse — dead.
“It’s devastating,” said Mrs. Samimi-Gomez of her father’s death. “I will never have more memories. When I have a family, my own child will never have memories of their grandfather. I never want this to happen to another person, which is why it’s been so important for me to work with the ACLU. We want everyone to know that this is happening and it needs to stop.”