Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) wants more oversight at the Immigrant and Customs Enforcement detention facility in his district ― so his office is planning to make weekly visits to assess the conditions for immigrants there.
On Tuesday, Crow announced that starting July 15, he or his staff will go every Monday to the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, which is run by private prison contractor GEO Group, and fill out a report on migrants’ health, food, sanitation and more. They will then post the report on their website.
Recent reports have detailed horrific conditions for migrants in detention centers across the country, particularly in Customs and Border Patrol facilities at the southern U.S. border.
ICE’s Aurora facility, which is in Crow’s district and about five miles from his home, has reported health issues, including cases of mumps and chickenpox, among detainees this year. Last month, ICE confirmed to Quartz that it had found nearly 300 cases of mumps across 39 facilities since September 2018.
“We have horrific conditions at facilities around the country. There are extreme challenges at the border, but have had numerous disease outbreaks at the facility in my district,” Crow told HuffPost, adding that GEO Group has been “unable or unwilling to deal with this in the right way.”
GEO Group told HuffPost on Wednesday that it “welcomes” oversight, noting it abides by “strict performance-based standards” and that its facilities “have never been overcrowded” and have “24/7 medical care.” ICE told HuffPost it would not be commenting at this time.
“We’re doing this to shine a light on this issue, and we know when there’s increased transparency, it does lead to some improvements,” Crow added, noting that since he went to the facility in February, detainees have gotten immunizations. But he said there’s still “a long way to go.”
Crow’s team said it will “stop the visits when ICE stops detaining people in subhuman conditions.”
ICE turned Crow away when he first went to the Aurora facility in February and only allowed him in for a tour nearly a month later after multiple requests. But he said that this time, he had notified ICE’s regional director and had been given “assurances” he’d have access to the facility.
“And if they don’t let us in, I’ll document that too,” he said.
Earlier this week, Crow also called for abolishing ICE contracts with for-profit, private companies to run immigrant detention centers like Aurora. He said ICE “hide[s] behind private companies to justify continued abuses.”
A report earlier this year from the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security found that ICE was not adequately policing contractors running immigrant detention centers and that serious problems were going unreported. ICE issued only two fines to contractors between October 2015 and June 2018, per the report, despite finding more than 14,000 deficiencies in that time period. One facility was fined for repeated deficiencies in health care.
Crow noted his team’s weekly visits are not meant to replace inspectors general or other types of official oversight, since the problem of poor conditions at migrant detention centers is “big and has to be solved through legislation and changes of leadership.”
Rather, Crow said he intends to show DHS that he is “serious” about getting more oversight at these facilities and hopes such visits will improve conditions for the people detained there.
Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and other members of Congress visited migrants in detention centers at the border in Texas. The congresswoman called the visit “horrifying,” saying women inside a CBP facility in El Paso were held in cells without water and that at least one woman said officers told her to drink out of the toilet.
“It’s important that Congress and elected officials roll up their sleeves, conduct oversight and hold people accountable,” Crow said. “This is a moral issue. There are people dying at these facilities around the country, there are very inhumane conditions. This is the time to do the work.”
This article has been updated with comment from GEO Group.