Aurora Metropolis Council desires Biden to chop ties with non-public prisons that maintain immigrants
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After a 6-4 vote, Aurora City Council will shortly be sending a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to cut ties between the federal government and private prisons that hold immigrants.
Aurora is home to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, an immigration and customs control detention center operated by the private prison company GEO Group.
“This company has been implicated in tremendous human rights abuses, which have been confirmed in reports from ICE and the government,” said Councilor Allison Hiltz, who proposed the letter, shortly before the vote at the March 1st council meeting.
Immigrant attorneys and attorneys have long worsened conditions at the Aurora ICE facility, pointing to cases of medical neglect, forced labor allegations, and infectious disease outbreaks as examples of the poor quality of care there. The facility currently houses around 200 ICE prisoners and a few dozen US Marshal prisoners. However, the facility offers space for over 1,500 ICE prisoners, a capacity that was almost reached in summer 2019 at a time of increasing border crossings. Proponents of private prisons usually argue that they keep costs down; Opponents say this is at the expense of human rights.
The Biden government has already issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to stop extending contracts with private prison companies. So far, however, Biden has not ordered the Department of Homeland Security to cut ties with private prison societies such as GEO Group, deeply undermining the discontent of immigrant rights advocates.
At the March 1 session, three Democrats, two former Democrats who are now disconnected (Hiltz and Nicole Johnston) and a former Republican who is now disconnected, voted for council members. Four Republicans voted against. One of those who voted no, Councilor Curtis Gardner, said he did so because of his views on executive power.
“I am not going to support the signing of this letter just because it is not the role of the president,” said Gardner, adding that he believes this is an issue that Congress should consider. “I at least agree with the spirit of the letter when it comes to going to private prisons in general. I think private prisons have perverse incentives, and I think that’s something we should move away from in general.”
Councilor Marsha Berzins said she thought the letter should be sent to Congressman Jason Crow, a Democrat who represents Aurora, rather than President Biden. Then she added, “Honestly, I think it is very inappropriate for us to call a particular store and ask it to close. I don’t think we should get into that. Next time we will say I think you should shut down Amazon and Home Depot or some other company because they’re making too much money? “
Councilor Dave Gruber, who had also voted against the proposal, promised to send his own letter to Biden arguing against Hiltz’s views.
Although Mayor Mike Coffman, a former US representative for the Congressional District, which includes Aurora, said he refused to send the letter, his signature will continue.
“It is disappointing that the city is officially attacking and belittling a longtime legally operating contractor who has served in the Aurora community for more than three decades and operates under contracts with Democratic and Republican administrations,” the GEO Group replies to one Request for comment: “As a service provider for the federal government, GEO plays no role in the passage of immigration laws, and we have never taken a position on immigration policy, be it the length of stay in immigration processing centers or the decision and outcome of immigration proceedings. Our only responsibility is to provide those in our care with high quality services in a safe and humane environment, in accordance with the federal government’s performance-based national detention standards set by the Obama-Biden administration.
“The message sent by Aurora City Council is a denigration of the hundreds of frontline workers, many of whom are local residents, who strive every day to provide the highest quality services to those entrusted to us. ”
Aurora City Council, however, isn’t the only one calling on the Biden government to cut ties between Homeland Security and private prison societies. In late January, Crow and 74 other members of Congress, including all of the Democratic representatives in Colorado’s delegation, sent President Biden a letter asking them to do just that.
“The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the safe and humane treatment of those in their care. This must apply to those who are held in private prisons in DOJ custody as well as those who are held in private prisons by the Ministry for We are ready to work with the Biden administration to end ICE’s use of private immigration detention centers, “the legislature wrote.
The administration seems to be moving in this direction. Last month, she issued a memo on new enforcement priorities to all ICE employees, pointing to a significant reduction in enforcement actions that had risen under President Donald Trump. And Congress is considering a bill to provide a route to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants now living in the United States
For the past few months, Aurora City Council has debated and ultimately opposed ordinances that would have established a legal protection fund for immigrants and certain protections for undocumented immigrants, including a provision that would limit the city government’s cooperation with ICE. Votes on these ordinances, preceded by a tense, bipartisan debate, were split between 5 and 5, with Mayor Coffman serving as the groundbreaking no-vote.
This story has been updated to include the GEO Group’s statement and the changed affiliations of some council members.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.