EDITORIAL: End private immigration warehouses like Aurora’s GEO facility, and mandate transparency

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You don’t have to look to the obscene humanitarian crisis along the Mexican border to see why Congress must end private-run immigrant warehouses and prisons and create independent oversight for government-run facilities.

Aurora’s own dubious GEO ICE detention center is a clear example of why only the government should run these critical facilities, and how it must be transparent and accountable to Congress and the public.

The national scandal enveloping U.S. Border Patrol detention facilities has highlighted Aurora Congressman Jason Crow’s important legislative push to ensure members of Congress be able to inspect immigrant detention facilities with little notice.

If the situation weren’t so dire, even inside the Aurora GEO ICE facility, it would have been humorous that a seated member of Congress was kept out of this detention warehouse on several occasions. Crow was repeatedly thwarted in trying to gain access to the facility earlier this year.

Crow is sponsoring a House bill improving access for inspections, but it doesn’t go far enough. Congress needs to do more to ensure that adults and children imprisoned in these facilities are safe and humanely cared for. More must be done to ensure that the community outside the facilities are also safe.

At all of these prisons, the problem is transparency and accountability. Aurora is no exception.

On several occasions, GEO Group has been successful at thwarting the release of information about a growing list of scandals hovering over the Aurora detention warehouse.

For years, the warehouse has been plagued by inmate stories about mistreatment, including being virtually enslaved to act as janitors for the facility for token pay. These are not prisons, and in many cases people being held have not been convicted of anything.

Despite a long and steady stream of accusations, the GEO ICE facility has offered no satisfactory answers.

For months, the Aurora facility has been accused of improperly handling inmate health. The facility regularly undergoes scourges of communicable diseases, such as mumps and measles. To date, there is no clear picture of how the Aurora GEO ICE warehouse will protect inmates and the public from disease outbreaks.

Recently, three detainees escaped from the Aurora facility, and little meaningful information was provided to public as to how it happened.

The mysterious 2017 death of a detainee has prompted a lawsuit.

The American Civil Liberty Union is seeking more records in the mysterious death of inmate Kamyar Samimi. Samimi had lived in the United States for decades. He was arrested in 2017 and died 15 days later in ICE custody at the Aurora GEO warehouse.

Despite trying to glean information by using federal open records laws, the ACLU has come up empty handed.

“Immigration detention facilities, like the one operated by GEO Group in Aurora, are all too often cloaked in secrecy, offering little to no transparency into the way detainees are treated within their walls,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.

He’s right. At least with government-operated facilities, the public has some chance of extracting information and details from these prisons by leveraging federal law in the courts.

That hasn’t been the case where these private-run prisons find ways to skirt accountability the government ultimately cannot.

The only remedies are for the federal government to end contracting with private prison companies. There has repeatedly been ample evidence to show that taxpayers see no net savings by having private companies run any kind of prison. All that private-company-run prisons can do is clip employee pay and cut corners to funnel taxpayer dollars into company profits.

The safety of the public and the people imprisoned in these warehouses are paramount, and without effective transparency and accountability, neither can be ensured.

Likewise, once turned over to ICE or another part of government for operation, an independent mechanism must have unfettered access to the facilities and all records to ensure public and inmate safety.

Members of Congress, the people’s advocates and representative, must also have guaranteed, immediate access to these facilities to ensure the horrors happening inside Texas immigrant warehouses end abruptly and never happen here.