AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– After months of protests and criticism over conditions at a detention center in Aurora, Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave CBS4 permission to bring a camera inside. The only restriction: CBS4 couldn’t show the faces of workers or detainees.
It is the first time ever the federal agency has allowed someone to take video inside the facility.
“We figured we have nothing to hide so let’s bring someone in,” says Acting Director of ICE in Denver John Fabbricatore.
He says the facility is processing two planeloads of people from the border every week along with convicted criminals in the country illegally.
“Everyone goes through classification when they first enter the facility. They’re classified by colors of the clothes that they wear.”
Those with immigration cases only wear blue, non-violent detainees wear orange and violent offenders wear red. Violent offenders, he showed our camera, are housed away from the others. The pods housing women are dormitory style with beds in one big room. Men sleep four to a room. In addition to free phones, there is a kiosk for ordering snacks in the pods, one iPad for every eight detainees with face time capability, and a law library with free access to legal websites.
“They also get a thumb drive when they come here so they can keep any of the legal information that they gathered,” says Fabbricatore.
It’s not access to legal aid, rather medical care that has been the biggest complaint at the facility. The detainee population has doubled in just the last eight months and, Fabbricatore says, the medical staff has nearly doubled.
“We have adequate medical staff but we will go to the outside if we need to.”
He says while they only have one doctor and one psychologist for about 1,200 detainees, they have 34 nurses and six tele-psychiatrists along with two dentists and an x-ray technician.
“If it’s emergent, they will see that right away. If it’s a regular doctor’s visit, that may take a couple days with 1,200 detainees currently on site but it’s not taking any longer than it would take to see your primary care physician on the outside.”
Critics have raised concerns about several infectious disease outbreaks. Fabbricatore says they were introduced by detainees who didn’t show any symptoms when they were admitted and they were put in quarantine with everyone else who was exposed. He says they now offer to vaccinate everyone.
The facility has also come under fire for putting detainees in isolation or what ICE calls restricted housing. Fabbricatore says some detainees request it, but he says most spend only a few days of their entire stay in segregation.
“Our average length of stay here is 54 days… Technically, if they asked to and their case did go a couple of months, they could be in restricted housing.”
An Inspector General report identified concerns with segregation and an all cement outdoor recreation area at the detention center.
“They want to see more grass. It’s something we’re looking at.”
But Fabbricatore pushed back against accusations that ICE is abusive. After nearly three decades with the agency, he says immigration law hasn’t changed, only the rhetoric has.
“We all live in this community. We don’t want diseases to be released into the community. We don’t want criminal aliens in our community. We’re not here to hurt people. We want to see people become United States citizens.”
In fact, he says many workers at the facility are immigrants, which helps with language barriers. He says there are 50-60 countries represented at the detention center at any given time.
While congressional members have raised concerns about the facility being privately run by the GEO group, Fabbricatore says that is not something ICE has control over. Congress made the decision to move toward private detention facilities.