Encampment to ‘Free Them All’ Outside GEO ICE Detention Center

Aurora, CO – An encampment outside the GEO Group’s ICE detention facility in Colorado sprung up on Saturday evening, May 23, with the demand: free them all. The camp-out is in direct response to an announcement by the Tri-County Health Department on May 21 stating that two detainees tested positive for COVID-19.

As of May 16, ICE has tested 2,394 detainees nationwide, which is less than 10% of the people they have in their custody. Over half of those tests came back positive. The largest outbreak in a detention facility thus far is at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, CA, where 155 detainees tested positive. That facility is also where the first reported detainee died from the disease.

Unicorn Riot spoke with Kesha Davalos-Grijalva on Sunday morning outside the Colorado detention facility. Her husband has been detained since January and has already lived through outbreaks of the flu and mumps at the center, when 141 detainees were quarantined for at least a week in late February.

In the last year and three months, there have been at least six outbreaks at the facility, including the current COVID-19 one. Due to pervasive sickness, medical neglect, two deaths—Evalin-Ali Mandza and Kaymar Samimi—and other human rights abuses, the detention center has been sued at least seven times since 2016.

The most recent suit was filed on April 14 to urge the release of vulnerable detainees. The center ended up releasing eight of the fourteen plaintiffs. There were two other reported releases of detainees in late March, totaling the number to 36.

As of April 24, before any detainees had tested positive, three GEO Group staffers and two ICE employees were found to have the coronavirus. In a May 20 ‘ICE Accountability Report’ (PDF) released by Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO6), the numbers have increased to five and three, respectively.

Screen shot of the May 20, 2020 ‘ICE Accountability Report’ showing information about the two COVID-19 positive detainees.

Davalos-Grijalva’s husband told her during a recent phone call that the guards blow air into their gloves like balloons and pop them. The gloves are meant to be part of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

On May 18, the national group, Doctors for Camp Closure, attempted to deliver hundreds of masks to detainees at the Colorado center, however the detention workers who came outside to meet the healthcare workers refused the masks.

Other tactics used by immigrant rights advocates and families of detainees in Colorado and nationwide are car rallies and physically-distanced vigils over the past few months. One of the car rallies in Aurora was located in the neighborhoods of the center’s CEO and warden Johnny Choate and ICE field office director John Fabbricatore.

The current encampment in Aurora is the third that immigrant rights advocates in Colorado have set up in the last two years. There was one in summer 2018 outside the Denver ICE Field Office in Centennial and one in fall 2018 outside the detention center in Aurora.

Campers outside the center say they won’t leave until everyone who is inside is freed. In order to make the protest camp as sustainable as possible, the group made call-outs for more people to show up and camp, for camping supplies, for food and water drop-offs, etc.

Kesha Davalos-Grijalva’s young daughter, whose father is a detainee, also spoke with us Sunday morning, reitering the demand of the encampment:

“I just want them to take him out and that’s all because he didn’t do nothing.”

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