AURORA | After being denied an unscheduled tour of the privately-owned immigration detention center in Aurora earlier this year, Congressman Jason Crow wants federal rules to ensure members of Congress gain entry into immigration facilities within 48 hours of a request.
Crow and Aurora City Council member Allison Hiltz showed up to the facility, owned and operated by the Geo Group Inc., on Feb. 20 without a scheduled tour and asked for an “inspection.” They were turned away.
The duo was told by Geo staff that they’d have to follow the “process” and make a formal request. At a tour for members of the press, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency official said the facility may have granted the tour if Crow hadn’t tipped off reporters he’d be there and hold a news conference afterward.
Crow and his staff were barred from that tour for members of the media.
Now he wants the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill to include language “prohibiting the use of funds preventing members of Congress from entering ICE operated or contracted facilities to conduct important oversight to ensure respect of basic human rights,” according to a letter he sent to lawmakers on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.
His bill requires requests be met within 48 hours. Crow told the Sentinel he wanted his visit to the facility to be impromptu, so that he could see the most accurate conditions inside the facility.
The letter cites multiple reports of mumps and chicken pox outbreaks in facilities across the country as reasoning for authorizing such visits. In February, there were 364 detainees, of nearly 1,400 inmates total, in quarantine for possible exposure to mumps and chicken pox, according to facility officials.
ICE officials said the outbreak was a result of more detainees arriving from the southern border, most of which were seeking asylum. Local health department officials said vaccines have helped control the outbreak.
“Congress has the right and responsibility to conduct oversight of all ICE-operated and contracted facilities,” the letter says.
Crow has the support of 20 fellow federal lawmakers so far, including Democrats from Colorado’s Congressional delegation and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The effort is getting applause from advocates, too. Representatives from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Colorado People’s Alliance and the International Rescue Committee have all extended support for the rule.
“We are hopeful that through Congressional oversight, the troubling conditions and inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention across the country can be addressed,” said Nicole Melaku, Executive Director, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition in a statement.
“We applaud Congressman Crow’s efforts in CD-06 to understand the the conditions at the GEO detention center in his district, so that together with advocates, Congress can ensure individuals basic human rights, access to legal representation, and dignity as human beings are observed in our communities.”