Nearly 100 COVID infected migrants were brought into the Aurora ICE facility amid the surge in border crossings
The U.S. Immigration and Customs facility in Aurora saw its largest COVID-19 outbreak to date when 97 migrants transferred from the southern border to detention center last month became infected with the virus, raising questions about testing and migrant transfers during a pandemic.
The COVID-positive cases were found in a group of more than 200 migrants who were transferred from detention centers along the border to Aurora in the second half of April, said ICE spokeswoman Alethea Smock.
The majority of those detainees, she said, were from U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities where news reports have seen coronavirus testing compromised by the sheer numbers of people crossing the border. The New York Times reported that the more than 170,000 migrants arrested in March were the most in a month in at least 15 years.
Both Aurora’s Democratic MP Jason Crow and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman are calling on the Biden administration to address the issue.
Coffman called the episode “incredibly irresponsible”.
“Under no circumstances should COVID-positive inmates be brought into the Aurora ICE facility,” he said. “They must be tested at the border and if they test positive for COVID they must be quarantined under CDC guidelines before they can be transferred.”
Smock said she doesn’t know exactly where the migrants at the border came from or why they were sent. She also couldn’t tell if they were tested by border guards before they were sent to Aurora.
But Smock said the inmates were tested and isolated at the ICE facility in Aurora.
“The medical center staff has taken the necessary steps to quickly isolate the exposed inmates, ensure adequate medical care and prevent further spread of the infection within the facility to inmates already in custody,” she said.
Last week, the New York Times reported that the US Border Protection Agency “will not test for coronavirus during the several days that newly arrived migrants are in US custody, except in cases where migrants show obvious symptoms” .
When asked about testing, the Customs and Border Protection Agency sent The Post a statement stating, “Suspected cases of COVID-19 will be referred to local health systems for appropriate testing, diagnosis and treatment,” adding that the approach “involves long-term CBP procedure is compatible “. to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. “
While the Biden administration continues to exclude most single adults and families under a public health ordinance issued by President Donald Trump at the start of the pandemic, it allows teens and children to stay, at least temporarily. Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for an approach that encourages illegal border crossings, while some Democrats worry about the long incarceration of minors.
Crow told The Denver Post that his office had asked the Biden administration, and previously the Trump administration, to stop renditions of detained migrants during the pandemic.
In November, Crow endorsed the End Transfer of Inhafted Immigrants Act, but it got nowhere. Crow spokeswoman Rebecca Drago said the Congresswoman plans to return the bill to the House of Representatives no later than next week.
“The system doesn’t have the resources to test people and treat them at this point – so let’s stop transferring people between facilities,” Crow told The Post.
However, Drago admitted Tuesday that the current language of the bill would not specifically stop transfers from customs and border guards to ICE facilities, adding, “This is something we are looking into.”
The ICE facility in Aurora has been the site of several minor COVID-19 outbreaks since March 2020. According to a weekly report from Crow’s office, there have been 314 positive cases at the facility since the pandemic began: 187 among inmates and 128 employees. According to Crow’s April report, there were 459 inmates at the facility, which can accommodate 1,532 people.
The Tri-County Health Department is doing the vaccinations for the ICE facility. Dr. Bernadette Albanese, a medical epidemiologist at the agency, said its staff are “nimble and responsive” to newly arriving inmates.
“The main objective of the disease control activities being carried out at the facility is to mitigate the effects of the new positive inmates admitted to the facility and to reduce the risk of further transmission,” she said.
A spokesman for GEO Group, the private contractor that operates the Aurora facility, said the company “has no role in decisions related to the assignment, relocation or release of people to ICE processing centers.”
“There is no provision in our contract that requires a specific or minimum number of people to be assigned to the Aurora ICE processing center or any of the ICE processing centers we manage on behalf of the federal government,” wrote GEO spokesman Christopher Ferreira in an email.
Coffman said bringing infected inmates to Aurora puts the community at risk and “unnecessarily jeopardizes the lives of all inmates at this facility.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.