STEVE SHERRICK, MD: Aurora GEO prison abuses demand immediate accountability

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As a physician, I’ve dedicated my life to helping and healing others. I swore an oath to protect life to the best of my ability. After hearing about the abhorrent conditions in immigration detention facilities, including in our city of Aurora, I can no longer remain silent.

Recently, a radicalized shooter took the lives of 22 innocent people that included El Paso, Texas parents, grandparents, veterans and a child. He was fueled by hate and bigotry, rooted in the bowels of the dark Internet and the rhetoric and policies of a president who has consistently dehumanized immigrants. Sadly, we are witnessing how President Trump’s racist platform are manifesting right here in Colorado.

The conditions at Aurora’s ICE detention facility are inhumane. As a physician born and raised in rural Colorado who works in rural Colorado, I care deeply about the health of people in Colorado regardless of their immigration status. Given the volume of cruel allegations of medical neglect that have been reported in this facility, there is no doubt in my mind that we must increase oversight of these detention centers and put an end to the mass incarceration of immigrants we have seen under the Trump Administration.

The detention center in Aurora is run by the GEO Group, a private prison contractor. A recent complaint about the facility’s conditions was submitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This complaint contained detailed stories of immigrant detainees and the inhumane conditions they are being forced to live in. As a physician it is extremely worrying to hear stories of women who asked for aspirin for headaches or menstrual cramps, and didn’t get any kind of response for a week. It is worrying to hear that there have been several outbreaks of mumps and chickenpox over the past few months, which have resulted in quarantines that impede access to attorneys. It is worrying to hear that the GEO Group only has one provider on staff at any one time to oversee the hundreds of people detained at the Aurora facility. It is worrying to hear how a 64-year-old man died in December of 2017 because the facility failed to seek emergency care for him.

While we have seen some members of Congress like Colorado’s own U.S. Reps. Jason Crow and Joe Neguse try to hold ICE accountable, Sen. Cory Gardner continues to be a rubber stamp for the Trump agenda. He should join his Congressional colleagues in pushing for better treatment of immigrants who are being detained, and for ensuring those who pose no safety risk are released and allowed to seek the care they need while pursuing their immigration claim in court. We should not, however, allow the GEO Group to expand the Aurora facility by opening a 432-bed annex – increasing its capacity to 1,532 – while continuously failing to provide adequate healthcare.

As Dr Martin Luther King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” We have the resources in our country to take care of these people, our leadership in Trump and Gardner have just simply chosen not to. These people risked their lives in order to come to the United States to have security and stability. Not only is it inhumane to keep them locked up in a facility, but also to deny them basic healthcare needs – that is unforgivable. We can do better as a state and a country. I urge the rest of Congress to take action and mandate adequate oversight for these facilities.”

Steve Sherrick was born and raised in rural Colorado and is the founder of Innova, a group of physicians committed to bringing cutting-edge medicine to rural facilities. He is medical director at Mt. San Rafael Emergency Department in Trinidad Colo. and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Rocky Vista Osteopathic School of Medicine.