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Hindi writes: "The day Neda Samimi-Gomez learned her 64-year-old father had died in immigration detention in Aurora is etched in her memory."

Immigrant children in a detention center. (photo: Ross D. Franklin)
Immigrant children in a detention center. (photo: Ross D. Franklin)

ACLU Report Alleges Medical Neglect, Maltreatment at Aurora ICE Facility Run by GEO Group

By Saja Hindi, The Denver Post

21 September 19

Spokeswoman says “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody”

he day Neda Samimi-Gomez learned her 64-year-old father had died in immigration detention in Aurora is etched in her memory.

She didn’t get a call from immigration officials until two days after his death. The more details she learned, the sicker she felt.

“It was unbelievable that so many people could be involved in my father’s death,” she said.

Kamyar Samimi, a Thornton resident, died Dec. 2, 2017, a little more than two weeks after he was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to be housed in the private immigration detention center in Aurora as he faced deportation.

Samimi was taking methadone and did not receive appropriate medical care for his withdrawal, which a federal investigation later found fell short of ICE standards.

But Samimi was not the only detainee who suffered medical maltreatment at the Aurora facility, according to a new report released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

The 42-page report details alleged medical abuses and neglect at the Aurora facility, which is operated by The GEO Group under an ICE contract. Detainees are “confined without access to sufficient medical care, adequate nutrition, legal resources or, in many cases, basic human decency,” the ACLU report says.

Despite those shortcomings, the report notes, The GEO Group reported a net income of $33.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is valued at $2.3 billion.

“The conditions at (the Aurora detention center) represent that worst of what currently plagues our society and government,” ACLU attorney Arash Jahanian wrote in the report. “GEO Group is profiting off caging people and denying them conditions consistent with human decency, including basic medical care.”

Alethea Smock, a spokeswoman for ICE’s Denver field office, defended the treatment of detainees at immigration facilities nationwide, saying the agency spends more than $269 million annually on health care services.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody,” Smock said in an emailed statement.

GEO Group spokesman Pablo E. Paez questioned the agenda behind the report, saying in an emailed statement, “We recognize that the ACLU has a political position generally against public-private partnerships. … It’s not surprising its report would only confirm their political position.”

Public criticism of ICE and The GEO Group, particularly in Aurora, has increased in recent months. The report’s release comes following a week of action by activists to protest ICE and ahead of Thursday night’s planned protest by Abolish ICE Denver outside GEO Group warden Johnny Choate’s home. In a statement, The GEO Group said extremist groups were disseminating “dangerous rhetoric and intimidation.”

“My dad was not the first’

The Aurora detention center has a total of 46 medical personnel, which includes one full-time physician and a host of other medical professionals, for up to 1,500 detainees. The GEO Group said it added additional medical staff this year and the company is in discussions to add another doctor, officials said in an email.

As of Tuesday, the facility held 1,118 immigration detainees, but that doesn’t include U.S. Marshals Service prisoners also being held there, according to ICE’s Denver field office.

“I want people to know these things are happening. My dad was not the first,” Samimi-Gomez told The Denver Post on Tuesday. (The ACLU report details another death at the facility, in 2012.) “I hope that this does not happen again, but we need to make some changes. We need to stop human beings, fathers and sons and brothers and uncles from being picked up, thrown in a detention center and for their families not to know why or how they’re doing. I never want anyone to experience what I did.”

Samimi was a permanent resident and green card holder after arriving in the United States from Iran in 1976, but was facing deportation over a 2005 conviction for possession of less than 1 gram of cocaine in Arapahoe County. He had an upcoming court date to appear before a federal judge when he died.

He had been taking doctor-prescribed methadone for two decades due to chronic back pain, according to the ACLU report, but medical staff at the detention center treated him as a drug-seeker who was sometimes faking symptoms.

The report detailed failures by staff to take Samimi’s complaints seriously, “unjustifiable” treatment, lack of symptom monitoring and slow response times.

Opioid withdrawal deaths aren’t sudden, said Dr. JK Costello, a Denver-area doctor and senior consultant with The Steadman Group, who reviewed Samimi’s death report for the ACLU.

The facility seemed to lack standardized assessment, its medical staff was not adequately trained to deal with opioid withdrawal and they neglected what were obvious signs that immediate treatment was needed, Costello said in an interview. In an email, GEO said it has policies for care and treatment of opioid withdrawal consistent with national standards.

Smock wouldn’t comment on specific cases without release waivers from the detainees.

Stories of detainee suffering

The problems inside the Aurora detention facility are not isolated, based on inmate accounts collected by the ACLU.

In 2012, detainee Evalin-Ali Mandza, 46, died of cardiac arrest while in custody. The report cites a Department of Homeland Security review that found Mandza didn’t have access to appropriate medical care in detention, which could have contributed to his death. In one instance, a nurse couldn’t get a reading on an electrocardiogram machine because she was unfamiliar with it, so she relied on her “gut instincts” to analyze the results, according to the report.

The ACLU report includes stories of detainees who suffered because of in-custody treatment. One man spoke about putting on his own leads because staff members couldn’t figure out how to use an electrocardiogram.

The GEO Group and ICE have been sued for treatment practices, including by U.S. Marshal detainee Ronnie Keyes, whose leg was amputated because of an infection that was exacerbated by conditions and then ignored, according to a lawsuit that was later settled.

In another lawsuit filed in May, Mohamed Dirshe, a gay man, alleges guards knew he was in danger but did not protect him from other detainees. He was beaten but did not receive immediate emergency medical care, according to the complaint.

The report also references detainee Fabian Vasquez, who was hearing impaired and didn’t receive a hearing aid for several months or accommodations.

The ACLU report cites several investigative reviews of the facility, such as the Office of the Inspector General’s that detailed concerns about treatment, including food safety, solitary confinement, lack of outdoor recreation time and lack of in-person visitation.

The food safety concerns were addressed and the other “suggestions or recommendations” were being taken under advisement and reviewed for possible solutions, according to Smock.

The ACLU report calls for holding detainee facilities accountable, divesting from private prison companies such as The GEO Group, providing funds to indigent immigrants for legal representation, establishing an immigration detention bond fund, limiting local cooperation with ICE and denying ICE access to local jails, and creating reforms within the criminal legal system.

Samimi-Gomez said she’s honored to work with the ACLU to bring these issues to light, but she also wants people to know her dad was more than a detainee or immigrant. He was patriotic. He loved Nascar. He had a sweet tooth. And he cared about his family.

“My dad was many things — and those two words are not what come to my mind,” she said. your social media marketing partner
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