ACLU pushing for nationwide changes at GEO-ICE prisons, citing 2017 Aurora death of immigrant inmate

Neda Samimi-Gomez is seen in front of a photo of her father, Sept. 18 at the Denver ACLU headquarters. Samimi-Gomez’s father died while in ICE custody at the GEO facility in Aurora, CO.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Kamyar Samimi died in the privately-owned GEO Group Inc. immigration detention center in Aurora Dec. 2, 2017.

His family wasn’t alerted until two days later.

Neda Samimi-Gomez, one of Samimi’s three adult children, said she was pulling into the parking lot at work when she received a text message from a colleague. It was a photo of an ICE officer’s business card, who’d come to see her. At that point, Samimi-Gomez, 25, knew there was something very wrong.

Almost two years later, she’s speaking out against the facility and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency for its treatment of her father and for others detained in Aurora and across the nation. 

“I don’t want anybody else to go through what we went through,” she told the Sentinel in an interview this week.

Samimi was an Iranian immigrant who’d come to the U.S. as a student in the ’70s and eventually got a Green Card. In all that time, he never naturalized, his family said.

His life in the United States wasn’t without trouble. There was at least one drug conviction.

Mr. Samimi loved Persian food and celebrating the holidays with his family. Photos courtesy the Samimi family.

In November 2017, agents confronted and then detained Samimi. They reported that he was being scrutinized for being “convicted for possessing less than one gram of a controlled substance 12 years prior, he had violated his LPR status and was now under arrest,” according to reports obtained by the ACLU.

While in custody at the Aurora GEO center, Samimi’s health began to decline. A guard noted in a report he seemed ill.

He had been detained in the Aurora detention center for two weeks when he died at the age of 64. Samimi-Gomez said there was little contact with her father while he was there.

It was a shock that he ended up in the facility at all. Samimi was on his way to a methadone clinic when ICE agents detained him.

Samimi had been taking 150mg to 190mg of methadone to manage chronic opiate withdrawal pain. An ICE report noted that Samimi was addicted to opium at the age of 6.

Even after stating he’d been going through withdrawal symptoms, a doctor at the facility discontinued Samimi’s methadone and instead prescribed Ativan, Clonidine, Cyclobenzaprine, ibuprofen and Phenergan and recommended increased fluids.

Over the next several days Samimi’s health declined, he attempted suicide and reportedly fainted in the hall, which one report noted as “drug seeking behavior.” A report made by government investigators in May found that Samimi died of “undetermined causes” and that while considered rare “methadone withdrawal cannot be ruled out.”

Samimi-Gomez said there was no indication that her father was in bad health before being taken into the detention center. The last conversation Samimi-Gomez had with her father was to invite him to Thanksgiving dinner. 

Talking about the death of her father, Samimi-Gomez says she wants one thing: “just change.” 

The ACLU is hoping for that, too.

This Saturday, AGEO ICE facility in Aurora.

This week, a report published by the ACLU recommended a slew of policies in the wake of an ongoing debate over private immigration detention centers, like the one in Aurora where Samimi died. Among them, the ACLU proposes to local governments that they enact more accountability standards, divest from companies like GEO Group Inc., provide universal representation to immigrants, prohibit resources to help ICE enforcement, and direct prosecutors to “adopt written policies and practices that consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences, including the risk of deportation, when exercising their authority to resolve cases.”

After the release of the ACLU report, which details other allegations mistreatment in the detention center, ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock said in a statement that the facility is a “humane, clean and professionally run detention center that was most-recently inspected in October by an independent third-party inspector.”

Denver recently made headlines by announcing they would no longer contract with CoreCivic and others to provide half-way house services in that city. The ACLU is also appealing to public employee retirement agencies to divest from GEO and similar corporations.

“Any fatality in ICE custody is tragic, and our staff takes all efforts to prevent fatalities. However, aliens enter ICE custody from countries around the world, and many have never been treated by a doctor or dentist prior to entering ICE custody,” Smock said. “Although regrettable, fatalities in ICE custody occur at a tiny fraction of the national average for detained populations in federal or state custody. In its more than 30 years of operation, two detainee deaths have occurred at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, while the facility has maintained custody of tens of thousands of detainees.”

Neda Samimi-Gomez’s father died while in ICE custody at the GEO facility in Aurora, CO. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

Last year, ICE reported nine deaths in detention centers across the country. There are nearly 400,000 people in ICE’s custody.

Locally, further regulation of detention centers like GEO Group have been somewhat challenging.

Aurora City Councilwoman Allison Hiltz, who has introduced legislation to require all detention centers in the city to notify the fire chief of communicable disease, said when it comes to GEO Group’s medical unit there are questions about which agency has authority, making it difficult for local lawmakers to propose any changes.

“No one really wants to take ownership over having authority over the medical center, so it’s hard to impose regulations on something that doesn’t have a home,” she said.

Earlier this year, Tri-County Health Department officials said neither GEO Group nor ICE was reporting communicable diseases — mainly mumps and chicken pox — to the agency, though the facility should have been. Since, health department staff and GEO Group staff say they’ve been working together to prevent the spread of such cases.