Detained individuals’ lives at risk in Denver Detention Facility after being exposed to chickenpox, shingles
SAN FRANCISCO, CA and DENVER, CO — Immigrant rights advocacy groups in California are calling on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison company the GEO Group to be held responsible for the inhumane health conditions taking place at the Denver Contract Detention Facility (DCDF) in Aurora, CO following a chickenpox outbreak. This quarantine resulted in dangerous medical neglect and rampant violations of due process and visitation rights for dozens of people in ICE detention. Some of the individuals affected by the quarantine were transferred to DCDF following the end of the ICE contract in August 2018 at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA.
“The guards, they don’t do anything. You have to die or almost die for them to pay attention to you,” said a Pangea Legal Services client who would like to stay anonymous. He has been in ICE detention since January, and was transferred to DCDF from WCDF earlier this year. “We had to go on hunger strike because they wouldn’t pay attention to us or help us while in quarantine. It’s been so frustrating because many of us have been detained for a long time and what we most want is a chance to have our day in immigration court to be released as soon as possible. But they’ve made things worse due to their negligence.”
On September 27, 2018, a 21-day quarantine began in Unit C1 at DCDF due to an individual infection of chickenpox (varicella). As no tests, treatment, or vaccines were given to the other individuals inside, it is apparent that ICE and the GEO Group fully expected the infection to spread to the others. Multiple individuals in the unit have since become infected with chickenpox and/or shingles. The unit’s quarantine was then restarted on October 8, a clear sign of ICE’s and the GEO Group’s incompetence or disinterest in adequately addressing the situation through treatment.
The quarantine and lack of adequate treatment and preventative medical care has resulted in serious negative consequences for those impacted, such as: 1) the postponement of all hearings, including bond hearings, by weeks or even months; 2) the inability to be released through bond, parole, or deportation, prolonging detention; 3) the inability to receive visits from loved ones or attorneys, with serious due process implications; and 4) severe medical neglect, as individuals are not receiving desperately needed treatment for other illnesses and conditions. One man in Unit C1 lost consciousness after two days of being denied urgent medical care for a possible stroke, and two others have left the unit in stretchers.
“The unilateral and unannounced transfers of clients to out-of-state for-profit jails not only visits a great deal of hardship on families struggling to remain together, it also deprives clients of their right to counsel and destroys any semblance of due process by prolonging detention, delaying hearings, and preventing clients from presenting evidence and witnesses who are based locally,” said Luis Angel Reyes Savalza, Immigration Attorney at Pangea Legal Services. “In the civil context, where detention is supposed to be a constitutional exception, and where ICE could have released people, transfers acted as a way to break immigrants to waive their rights, self-deport, and fracture entire communities.”
Advocates have raised concerns about medical neglect in ICE detention for years, including at DCDF in particular. Mere months ago, in June 2018, the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association filed a complaint with ICE, the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the Office of the Inspector General, and ICE Health Service Corps, demanding immediate investigation into the woefully inadequate medical and mental health care provided at DCDF. In December 2017, a man in ICE detention at DCDF died of a heart attack. In May 2017, Freedom for Immigrants and Human Rights Watch released a report documenting subpar medical care in ICE detention facilities around the country that endangers people’s lives and can lead to fatal consequences.
"This outbreak is not an isolated incident. This is a symptom of the larger problem that long-term detention is inherently inhumane and dangerous. Human beings should not be locked up for seeking safety or a better life," said Ana Rodriguez, Community Organizer with Colorado People's Alliance. "The for-profit model of detention guarantees additional human rights abuses since these detention centers have an incentive to save money no matter whose rights they trample on or how many lives they put on the line."
This is not the first time that the GEO Group is responsible for neglecting medical needs and mishandling dangerous outbreaks in its facilities. The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, also run by the GEO Group, is notorious for rampant medical negligence, including its own outbreaks of chickenpox as recently as June and September 2018, which have also led to hunger strikes demanding better treatment.
“The support of organizations and individuals helps us so much,” said the man detained at DCDF. “It’s so horrible being locked up for a long time. It’s very difficult and traumatizing. But our families’ love is what kindles our resistance, and for me personally, it’s what motivates me. My message to everyone is to keep fighting and not to give up.”
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA) is a statewide immigrant youth-led alliance that focuses on placing immigrant youth in advocacy and policy delegations in order to ensure pro-immigrant policies go beyond legalization, and shed light on how the criminalization of immigrants varies based on identity.
Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance (CCIRA) seeks to end ICE collaboration in Contra Costa and to promote immigrant rights, inclusion and spirit of welcome in cities throughout the county.
Freedom for Immigrants is devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. We visit and monitor 55 immigrant prisons and jails, and we run the largest national hotline for detained immigrants. Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change.
The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity is a statewide California organization that connects clergy and people of faith to the work of social justice. We work to make the criminal justice system more just, and the immigration system more fair and humane.
The mission of Pangea Legal Services is to stand with immigrant communities and to provide services through direct legal representation, especially in the area of deportation defense. In addition to direct legal services, we are committed to advocating on behalf of our community through policy advocacy, education, and legal empowerment efforts.
The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC) is a statewide, membership-based coalition of immigrant, faith, labor, youth, community, business and ally organizations founded in 2002 to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees by making Colorado a more welcoming, immigrant-friendly state. CIRC achieves this mission through non-partisan civic engagement, public education, and advocating for workable, fair and humane immigration policies.
United for a New Economy (UNE) is a multi-racial community organization in Adams County working to empower everyday people. UNE envisions vibrant, strong communities where ALL community members have a voice in the decisions that impact them, access to economic security; which includes affordable housing and good jobs and the ability to live free of racism and fear.
The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice. AFSC's Coloradans For Immigrant Rights (CFIR) Program works to create public discourse and policy that supports immigrants’ full human rights.
Colorado People's Alliance (COPA) is a racial justice, member-driven organization dedicated to advancing and winning progressive social change locally, statewide and nationally. COPA builds power to improve the lives of all Coloradans through leadership development, organizing and alliance building.
Center for Health Progress believes our healthcare system should work for all Coloradans. So, we bring people together to ensure factors like race, income, and ZIP code don’t determine a person’s access to care and opportunity to live a healthy life. When we uncover common sense solutions to these complex challenges, we get closer to ensuring our health care system works for everyone. Because when our neighbors are healthy, our communities prosper, and Colorado is stronger.