In response to news that two detainees at an immigrant detention facility in Aurora have contracted COVID-19, immigrant rights groups and medical professionals are calling on state lawmakers to pass a bill, introduced at the Colorado legislature this week, to allow the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to inspect Colorado facilities that house non-citizens, including facilities in Aurora and Westminster.
At a socially-distant rally and news conference, advocates discussed the importance of the bill, co-sponsored by Colorado state Rep. Adrienne Benavidez (D-Denver) and House Majority Leader Alec Garnett (D-Denver).
“I am urging our legislature to allow state oversight of immigration detention facilities,” said Lilly Cervantes, a doctor, speaking via a Zoom connection and adding that “anything we can do to protect our most vulnerable is important.”
Another doctor echoed Cervantes sentiments.
“I am deeply distressed,” said Danielle Loeb, an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado. “Immigrant centers in Colorado need oversight immediately.”
“The people detained in these facilities are our friends, neighbors, husbands, wives… our patients,” said Loeb. “We desperately need to pass this policy so that our public health agency can have the same oversight over these facilities as prisons, jails and other penal institutions. This is a low bar.”
Speakers at the event repeatedly said that immigrant detainees should not have their lives put at risk at the detention facilities.
“Being in detention should not be a death sentence,” said Ana Rodriguez of the Colorado People’s Alliance.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says all individuals in ICE custody are “treated with dignity and respect, and provided the best possible care,” according to the agency’s inspection guidelines. Its facilities are currently visited by a member of Congress or staff once per week.
The protest event, which was sponsored by Doctors for Camp Closures, Colorado People’s Alliance, and American Friends Service Committee, included an art installation depicting tight quarters at detention cells and showing how immigrants “are not being treated with basic care.”