Colorado Rights Blog


  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

Shining a Light on Detention in our Own State

On December 2, Kamyar Samimi died an agonizing death in ICE custody at the immigration detention facility in Aurora, Colorado, operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation. Yesterday, after a long and thorough investigation, ACLU of Colorado released our report, Cashing in on Cruelty: Stories of death, abuse and neglect at the GEO immigration detention facility in Aurora, which not only tells Samimi’s story, but also reveals many other stories of abuse, neglect and inadequate medical care in the Aurora facility.

The demonization and persecution of immigrants in our nation has reached crisis proportions, leading to separation of families at the border, caging of children, detention of asylum seekers and deportations that rip families apart. We think of these horrors as being focused on our borders, but the Aurora Contract Detention Facility is right in our backyard here in Colorado. ICE’s oversight of these for-profit detention facilities is clearly insufficient, which should not be a surprise given the Trump administration policies of cruelty meant to deter immigrants from coming to the U.S.

We must not forget that these policies are rooted in fear and in a festering ideology of white supremacy, not in a realistic assessment of the largely positive role immigrants play in our nation and our communities. We also must not forget that undocumented immigrants have rights under the U.S. Constitution. Many Constitutional rights are promised to persons, not just citizens, including due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Our national goal should be to fix our systems of legal immigration and to create a viable path to citizenship for undocumented members of our communities, not to engage in mass detention and deportation of immigrants. Nothing justifies the cruelty of inhumane detention or policies that intentionally separate children from their parents.

Mr. Samimi’s own story is one of medical cruelty and separation from his family after four decades in the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident. His death and the other stories of abuse and neglect in the Aurora detention facility are not isolated cases. Just last week an eighth death under ICE custody this year occurred in Woodstock, Illinois, ending the life of 37-year-old Roberto Rodriguez-Espinoza. Detainees in these facilities are hidden from public view in conditions that are often terrible. Rarely do they have adequate legal representation. The incentives for care under for-profit detention are perverse, and even local government is often unaware of what is happening in these facilities. Our report is a glimpse inside the walls of the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, and we hope Coloradans and residents of Aurora will not look away. State and local reforms should include increased oversight of detention facilities and conditions within them, increased resources for bond funds and legal representation for detainees, and decreased local law enforcement cooperation with ICE.

Future generations looking back on what is happening to immigrants at the border and in detention today may ask us, “Did you know?” “What did you do about it?” ACLU of Colorado is determined to shine a light on detention in our own state, defend immigrant rights and bring about state and local policy change.

In Solidarity,

ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley


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