At least two people have died, and others have endured excruciating ailments at a federal immigration detention center in Aurora because of failures by the for-profit company that runs the holding pen, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado alleged in a report Wednesday.
Among those who have suffered at the hands of GEO Group was Kamyar Samimi, a green card holder who died two weeks after he entered the facility in 2017 and was deprived of the prescribed methadone he’d taken for more than 20 years to manage chronic pain, the ACLU alleges.
Samimi complained of abdominal pain, refused food that he was too nauseated to eat, tried to kill himself and — in his final waking hours — screamed for help and vomited blood.
But even after a nurse told an officer, “he’s dying,” no one called 911 until it was too late, the report alleges.
GEO declined to comment on the specific allegations, saying the center’s health care program has nearly 50 medical positions and offers “24/7 medical services.”
Pablo Paez, GEO’s executive vice president of corporate relations, said in an email that the report confirms the civil liberties group’s “political position generally against public-private partnerships.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with GEO and other companies to operate centers across the country to detain suspected undocumented immigrants until their civil immigration cases are resolved.
ICE said in a statement that the Aurora facility is “a humane, clean and professionally run detention center” that was found fully compliant by an independent third-party inspector last October.
“The ACLU’s allegations simply are not substantiated by numerous other inspections that have found the facility to operate fully in compliance with federal law and agency policy,” said ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock.
Like its corporate counterparts that dominate the private prison industry, GEO is facing heightened scrutiny over claims that it provides inadequate care for the sake of the bottom line.
Last year, more than 60% of GEO’s $2.3 billion in earnings came from federal contracts, according to the report.
The Denver City Council recently opted to cut short multimillion dollar halfway house contracts with GEO and another company, CoreCivic, citing concerns about substandard conditions at the Aurora facility and others.
ICE and GEO agreed early this year to increase capacity at the Aurora center from 1,000 to more than 1,500, despite signs of dysfunction there, the ACLU reported. Last spring, detainees launched a hunger strike protesting a lock down prompted by outbreaks of mumps and chickenpox.
Ongoing citizen protests against conditions at the Aurora center are expected to continue Thursday, when concerned activists plan to gather outside the home of the warden, a GEO employee.
Samimi, a Thornton resident and father of three, was told when he was arrested in 2017 that he was being taken into custody for a 12-year-old drug possession conviction and violation of his “lawful permanent resident” status, according to the ACLU report.
He didn’t have his green card with him but provided a copy to ICE agents, the report states.
A coroner’s report lists Samimi’s cause of death as undetermined but said methadone withdrawal couldn’t be ruled out, according to the ACLU.
In the report, the ACLU also alleged other cases of abuse and neglect:
A man died of a heart attack after a nurse waited an hour to send him to a hospital, unable to get a proper reading on an electrocardiogram machine.
Another man’s leg had to be amputated after his complaints about bedsores went unaddressed and infections festered.
A woman with a severe toothache yanked a tooth from her mouth because she couldn’t get dental attention.
“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,” said Denise Maes, public policy director for the ACLU of Colorado.
Pablo, the GEO spokesman, said the Aurora facility’s medical team has a physician, a physician’s assistant, a dentist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, nurses and other specialists.
“There are currently open positions that are in the process of being filled pending client approval. However, those positions are currently being covered on an interim basis by medical professionals with the same medical qualifications or higher,” Pablo said.
Medical staff receive 120 hours of training on topics including human rights, mental health, first aid, medication management and infection control, Pablo said. GEO also has policies in place to treat opioid withdrawal, he added.
About a dozen staff were added “to accommodate the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border,” and the company is in talks with ICE to add one doctor, he said.
The ACLU’s revelations come as the number of suspected undocumented immigrants in the federal government’s custody rises amid President Donald Trump’s continual calls for strengthened immigration enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Thirty-one immigrants, including at least seven children, have died in ICE’s custody since Trump’s inauguration, according to the civil liberties group.
The ACLU is calling for policies that hold GEO and other companies that run ICE facilities accountable, divest taxpayer dollars from those companies and curb cooperation between local law agencies and federal immigration authorities.
“It’s clear that ICE and GEO lack both the will and the ability to provide even the most basic level of care.” Denise Maes, ACLU of Colorado public policy director