Following Outbreaks at ICE Facilities, Crow Leads Letter with 20 House Democrats Requiring Congressional Access

April 9, 2019
Press Release
The letter urges the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security to require detention facilities to give access to Congress within 48 hours of request. Earlier this year, Crow was denied access to an ICE facility in Colorado

Following a rash of viral disease outbreaks at ICE detention facilities and their privately run facilities across the country, Rep. Jason Crow (CO-06) led a letter to the Appropriations Subcommittee for Homeland Security Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) and Ranking Member Chuck Fleischmann (TN-03) urging them to include language requiring ICE facilities to provide access to members of Congress within 48 hours of their request. The letter was signed by 20 House Democrats and models a similar provision enacted into law last year requiring juvenile detention facilities to provide access to members.

In Colorado 6th’s district, ICE repeatedly denied Congressman Crow access to a GEO Group-run facility in Aurora, including blocking the Congressman from attending a press tour. Crow finally received a tour 24 days after his initial visit and request on February 20th. The Aurora facility has come under fire for multiple reports of poor conditions and disease outbreaks, including mumps and chickenpox. This follows numerous reports and concerns stemming from the death of a detainee in 2017. To date, detention centers in Texas and Louisiana have also reported similar disease outbreaks resulting in quarantines and a loss of due process.

“For too long, ICE has operated in the shadows in an administration that is more than willing to turn a blind eye to allegations of abuse and neglect. Draconian immigration practices have no place in America. Congress must provide oversight and ensure that the actions of our government reflect our national values,” said Crow. “By requiring Congressional access to detention facilities, we will bring transparency to an opaque system and gain a more honest and accurate understanding of ICE’s operations. Americans deserve to know how ICE is operating in our communities and to have the assurance that public health risks are handled safely and effectively.”

“Congressional oversight is of paramount importance, particularly because the facility has previously undermined public trust by providing little to no information about its expansion and health conditions to local government and its first responders,” said Allison Hiltz, Aurora City Council member.

“We are hopeful that through Congressional oversight, the troubling conditions and inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention across the country can be addressed. We applaud Congressman Crow's efforts in CD-06 to understand the conditions at the GEO detention center in his district, so that together with advocates, Congress can ensure individuals basic human rights, access to legal representation, and dignity as human beings are observed in our communities,” said Nicole Melaku, Executive Director, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

“CD-06 constituents are speaking out about the conditions they are facing inside of the GEO Detention Center, including but not limited to neglected medical issues and complaints, expired food and milk, and frequent chicken-pox and mumps outbreaks within the last few months. These outbreaks lead to quarantines that keep immigrants from being able to see their loved ones for weeks at a time, and can also cause them to miss vital immigration court hearings, resulting in extended detention periods and delayed case hearings,” said Feven Enkuselasse Berhanu, Community Organizer, Colorado People's Alliance. “These conditions are unacceptable. Congress must be allowed to oversee these facilities and put a stop to inhumane and unsafe conditions.”

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen protections for asylum seekers and others seeking safety here in the U.S. systematically rolled back. Among those in ICE detention centers are some of the world’s most vulnerable people, including people who have fled their home countries due to the horrific violence and persecution. It is imperative that Members of Congress maintain the ability to access detention facilities. Without that access, Congress cannot effectively exercise its oversight role in order to uphold the U.S.’s commitments to human rights and ensure protection of vulnerable people in accordance with U.S. and international law,” said Jennifer Wilson, Executive Director of International Rescue Committee - Denver.

“In light of ongoing concerns regarding the conditions and practices within ICE detention facilities, LIRS applauds Rep. Jason Crow and his colleagues for taking this important step toward oversight and accountability. The bottom line is: Congress is responsible for ensuring that these institutions reflect and uphold American values,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

 

Text of Letter:

Dear Chairwoman Roybal-Allard and Ranking Member Fleischmann:

As you prepare the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, we strongly urge you to include language prohibiting the use of funds preventing Members of Congress from entering U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operated or contracted facilities to conduct important oversight to ensure respect of basic human rights. Specifically, it is vital members of Congress are able to do what they can to ensure safe and secure detention environments for staff, detainees, and their surrounding communities.

Since ICE was founded in 2003, the agency operated its detention system under National Detention Standards issued in September 2000.  These standards were first revised in 2008 and again in 2011 when ICE adopted their new standards, known as Performance-Based National Detention Standard 2011 (PBNDS 2011).  The PBNDS 2011 includes seven parts: Safety Security, Order, Care, Activities, Justice, and Administration and Management. It is apparent, through multiple reports and investigations, there are a number of standards in both Part 4 – Care and Part 6 – Justice that facilities have continued to not meet. This is especially evident in facilities operated by the GEO Group, Inc. and CoreCivic. Furthermore, communication between ICE and Congress has continued to be subpar, which limits Members of Congress’ ability to conduct oversight of detention facilities and monitor compliance with ICE detention standards.

In the first two months of 2019, three ICE detention facilities in Colorado, Texas, and Louisiana quarantined detainees due to mumps outbreaks, grouping both those diagnosed and non-diagnosed detainees together. During previous years, there have been other viral outbreaks, including chicken pox and measles, at facilities around the country. ICE facilities have still not fully implemented or adhered to PBNDS 2011 standards, like standards that would follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention infection disease guidelines. Furthermore, reports have indicated detainees may have been unable to contact their attorneys or attend court hearings due to quarantine.

Congress has the right and the responsibility to conduct oversight of all ICE-operated and contracted detention facilities. We therefore urge you to include the following bill language: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prevent a Member of Congress from entering within a 48 hour request, for the purpose of conducting oversight, any facility operated by or for the Department of Homeland Security used to detain or otherwise house aliens, or to make any temporary modification at any such facility that in any way alters what is observed by a visiting Member of Congress, compared to what would be observed in the absence of such modification.” Doing so would clarify Congress’ role in ensuring detention centers, operated by or for ICE, adhere to the standards ICE has developed.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important request.