2 COVID-19 cases at Aurora ICE prison prompting Friday drive-by protest

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AURORA | Two detainees at the north Aurora immigration detention center have contracted COVID-19, according to federal officials. 

One detainee, Oscar Perez Aguirre, was transferred from Sterling Correctional Facility, where 440 inmates and 21 employees have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Perez Aguirre, 58, left Sterling on May 15 and arrived at the Aurora ICE detention center privately owned and operated by the GEO Group Inc. when he started showing symptoms of the virus, his attorney Henry Hollithron confirmed to the Sentinel.

News of virus transmissions prompted another drive-by protest organized by Abolish ICE Denver. The group has organized several recent protests, including some at homes of GEO employees.

About 50 cars with protesters circled the area at 5 p.m., honking and yelling about inmates being endangered from virus exposure.

Perez Aguirre was brought to Colorado from a facility in Texas for either a probation or parole matter instead of being deported for unlawful re-entry, Hollithron said. Perez Aguirre was arrested in Boulder County in 2000 for a felony drug charge, according to court documents.

By Sunday, Perez Aguirre was admitted to a local hospital where he is currently receiving treatment for the virus. Immigration advocates who have been in contact with his family say Perez Aguirre has hypertension and an enlarged heart.

The other detainee’s identity isn’t known yet.

Perez Aguirre is one of hundreds of detainees that have been shuffled in and out of the GEO Group facility at 3130 Oakland St..

In the eight weeks following the first cases of the virus in Colorado, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency transferred nearly 800 detainees into the facility, according to a report from the Colorado Independent

Transfers between facilities have been a concern for Aurora Congressman Jason Crow, who earlier this month sent a letter to ICE calling for a halt on transfers to prevent spreading the virus, which has killed more than 1,000 Coloradans to date. Crow alleged those transfers were happening to meet contract minimums.

“As an example, the Aurora Contract Detention Facility had 462 detainees at their facility last week, falling below their contract minimum of 525. After moving 100 detainees out, ICE transferred 166 new detainees into the facility. While they now meet the required number of detainees, one third of the population at this facility are new arrivals,” Crow wrote in the letter. “These detainees present a significant risk of exposure to the existing population, staff, and surrounding community at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility. The movement and exposure of those brought in through enforcement and removal operations prior to their detention is unknown.”

In a reply letter, ICE said transfers are still happening for a number of reasons, but “is not moving any detainee during an observation period or any detainee who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

“Please note that all detainee transfers and transfer determinations are based on a thorough and systematic review of the most current information available. As such, ICE takes into account important factors prior to the transfer, including the detention center and the health, safety, and welfare of the detainee, when making the determination to transfer ICE detainees,” the letter said.

“Perez-Aguirre was transferred to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, Colorado, May 14 after his release from custody to effect his removal from the U.S. by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as mandated by law,” according to ICE.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ICE officials have affirmed they are taking precautions to prevent the virus taking hold in its facilities across the county. 

ICE Spokeswoman Alethea Smock told the Sentinel in an email the two detainees with COVID-19 had been separated from other populations at the facility after arriving there. 

“Detainees without fever or respiratory symptoms who meet epidemiologic risk criteria are monitored for 14 days,” she wrote. “ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) has also encouraged facilities to isolate new admissions into the detention network for 14 days before placing them into general population.”

There have been 1,181 confirmed cases in ICE facilities across the nation. The current detained population is 26,660. 

Two GEO Group employees at the Aurora detention center were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 in March, according to ICE. There have been 44 confirmed cases in ICE employees across the country.