U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is defending the treatment of detainees at the privately run facility in Aurora but also suggested that some changes are in the works.
The response to criticism came during a media tour ICE held at the facility Friday. Members of the press saw the kitchens, one of the housing pods, the medical facility and the library, but the press were not allowed to speak with detainees and did not have access to the annex or to the women's section of the facility.
John Fabbricatore, acting field office director, said ICE officials working to make it possible for detainees to have direct in-person visits.
“We do think it's important that people have contact visits. But it’s very intensive, so we need to make sure we do it right,” Fabbricatore said.
In-person visits require more staff and a room that ensures no contraband is passed. There is no timeline in place for when the change could happen. For now, direct in-person visits continue to occur on a case-by-case basis.
The change is in response to an Office of Inspector General report criticizing the privately-run facility, including lack of open-space, improper segregation of detainees and lack of open space.
“We take it seriously every time somebody says this needs to be changed,” Fabbricatore said.
The facility has come under scrutiny from Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation, with many calling for more oversight of the facility. Rep. Jason Crow has begun making weekly visits to the facility.
Fabbricatore takes issue with reports that the facility is problematic and “a mess.” He said the detention center provides professional services to everyone they come in contact with.
“We make sure that everyone that is here is taken care of. It’s very serious to us,” he said. “If we want to see changes, and we want to see things done, Congress has to change the law. The immigration agents in this community are just following the law.”
The facility also came under fire for its handling of disease outbreaks and use of “restrictive housing” for people who need to be separated. The ICE acting director said some sick detainees are separated at their request, others for disciplinary reasons. As of Friday, there were 12 people in the solitary rooms, and one case of chickenpox.
The facility can house as many as 1,532 people. There were 1,232 detainees in the facility Friday. A year ago, about 85 percent of the population were convicted criminals waiting to be deported back to their home country, and 15 percent were immigrants waiting for asylum or other legal proceedings. Fabbricatore said that percentage has reversed since the crisis at the border.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the location of the women's dorm as the annex at the Aurora GEO facility.