AURORA | The City of Aurora will be listed as a supporter of Congressman Jason Crow’s POD Act. If passed by his peers, the bill would require federal detention centers — such as the GEO Group Inc.-owned immigration detention facility in Aurora — to allow members of Congress entry within 48 hours of a request.

Nine members of the city council agreed to include the city as a supporter of the bill during a city study session on Monday. Council member Dave Gruber was absent from the meeting and council member Johnny Watson voted against the measure, citing worries of being associated with other groups who may also sign on as supporters in the future.

“I believe as this as letter goes forward, the city should be careful as to what entities are on this list,” Watson told the body. 

Other council members retorted that the body’s support should be reliant on who supports the legislation, but what is in the legislation.

Council member Marsha Berzins, who is also a candidate for mayor, originally said she supported the legislation but as a general rule didn’t make “endorsements,” and wanted to know what the difference between supporting the legislation and endorsing the legislation.

The city will not be writing a letter recommending the bill, but adding its name to a list of supporters.

GEO officials were not immediately available for comment.

The bill, called the Public Oversight of Detention Centers Act or POD Act, would require members of Congress quick access to federal detention centers, like the immigration detention center in north Aurora. 

At Crow’s news conference announcing the bill, Nicole Melaku, Executive Director of Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, praised the legislation. She then went on to say her organization has talked to families who say they know detainees who have experienced trouble accessing health care in the facility. 

That was a major concern of Crow’s when he first requested to visit the facility in February and was turned away by GEO Group staff, who operate the facility. 

“When my office learned of poor conditions and health issues at an ICE detention center in Aurora, we immediately sought access to the facility to conduct oversight,” Crow said in a statement about his legislation. “We were denied access not once but three times. Since then, we learned of infectious disease outbreaks and conditions. The agency’s lack of transparency and accountability put the health of the public and detainees at risk.”

— KARA MASON, Staff Writer