The entrance to the GEO Group’s immigrant detention facility is shown in Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

You don’t have to look to the Texas-Mexico border or a bus leaving immigrants stranded in downtown Chicago to witness the obscene humanitarian crisis the United States is inflicting on millions of immigrants.

It’s right here in Aurora.

Aurora’s own dubious GEO ICE detention center is a clear example of why, at the very least, only the federal government should run these critical facilities, and how they must be transparent and accountable to Congress and the public.

The long, national scandal enveloping these detention facilities has warranted Aurora Congressman Jason Crow’s consistent legislative push to ensure members of Congress are able to inspect private immigrant detention facilities with little notice.

Ultimately, these horrific facilities must be turned over to the federal government. Only then can American humanitarians force transparency and accountability on these deadly warehouses.

National Public Radio last week completed an investigation into the ICE prison system, echoing years of reporting by the Sentinel.

Tragically, even the federally operated ICE warehouses are problematic, but at least the offer an opportunity for change and improved opportunity for transparency and accountability.

The NPR report shone a light on dozens of ICE prisons across the country, many of them operated by GEO Group, like the one in Aurora.

“Out of all the incidents cited in the more than 1,600 pages of inspection reports NPR obtained, the death of Kamyar Samimi stands out,” NPR reported, referring to an astonishing lethal gaffe that occurred in the Aurora GEO ICE prison in 2017.

Neda Samimi-Gomez looks at her brother Tony Samimi discuss the impact of losing their father, who died while in custody at the GEO Aurora ICE Processing Center. The ACLU is suing the GEO Group, alleging negligence in the death of Kamyar Samimi. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

The mysterious death of Samimi has for years filled pages of Sentinel editions as his family and the ACLU have slowly discovered and revealed how he died.

He had been detained in the Aurora detention center for two weeks when he died at the age of 64. Samimi, addicted to opium since he was 6 years old, was on his way to a methadone clinic when ICE agents detained him in Denver.

For years, Samimi had been taking 150mg to 190mg of methadone to manage chronic opiate withdrawal pain. 

Even after stating he’d been going through withdrawal symptoms, a doctor at the ICE facility discontinued Samimi’s methadone and instead prescribed Ativan, Clonidine, Cyclobenzaprine, ibuprofen and Phenergan and recommended increased fluids, the Sentinel reported in 2019.

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.”

The family has since sued ICE and GEO.

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

Jeanette Vizguerra reads a statement from Adilia Calero-Mendoza, the sister of Melvin Calero-Mendoza, while holding a photo of Melvin, Nov. 23, during a vigil and press conference outside of the GEO facility. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

Change didn’t come fast enough for Nelson Calero-Mendoza, who died at the hands of GEO ICE officials last fall.

A Nicaraguan immigrant, Calero-Mendoza injured his right leg during rec time outside of the facility. He died days later.

Months after his death, an investigation revealed that Calero-Mendoza had developed a blood clot from the bruise in his leg. Despite pleas for medical help, the injury was untreated and improperly treated.

He developed an embolism from the essentially minor injury and collapsed.

The recent NPR story revealed a harrowing 911 call last October from GEO ICE officials fumbling with how to get an ambulance to the prison. The caller didn’t know the correct address of the prison, Calero-Mendoza’s name or really what his condition was, according to the NPR story.

Despite months of inquiry, the Sentinel could not get a clear explanation of how Calero-Mendoza even got to the hospital.

“Immigration detention facilities, like the one operated by GEO Group in Aurora, are all too often cloaked in secrecy, offering little to no transparency into the way detainees are treated within their walls,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein previously. 

Congressman Jason Crow and then Aurora City Councilwoman Allison Hiltz stand in the waiting area of the GEO ICE facility, Feb. 20, 2019 as they wait to speak to a supervisor of the facility to find out if they will be allowed to tour the facility. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

These are not prisons. They’re warehouses imprisoning people who have allegedly violated U.S. immigration policies and regulations.

The only remedies are for the federal government to end contracting with private prison companies to run these warehouses. There has repeatedly been ample evidence to show that taxpayers see no net savings by having private companies run any kind of prison. All that private-company-run prisons can do is clip employee pay and cut corners to funnel taxpayer dollars into company profits. And they are able to shield the facts from the public.

The safety of the community and the people imprisoned in these warehouses are paramount, and without effective transparency and accountability, neither can be ensured.

We support Congressperson Crow’s relentless fight to either shut these warehouses down or turn them over to federal agencies, on the condition they remain open to regular public scrutiny.

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