Immigration Lockup Expansion Not A Government Move

A privately owned federal detention facility for immigrants is set to expand in Aurora, but it wasn’t the government’s idea to start construction on the $72-million-dollar project that would triple the amount of bed space for detainees.The GEO Group, the private prison firm in charge of the facility, is drastically expanding the prison on its own behalf, according to Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The move is expected to garner additional annual revenue of $30 million for the company, which is paid to detain a diverse group of immigrants while they wait for ICE legal proceedings. GEO reported $258.2 million in earnings for the second quarter of 2007. 

“This proposed expansion is strictly a decision made by GEO,” writes Rusnok in an e-mail, before directing all other inquires to the prison contractor. The GEO Group did not return a request for comment regarding the construction.

Earlier in the month, the company announced that it would be expanding the facility by 1,100 beds, with an estimated completion date of the end of 2007. The current GEO facility has 400 beds.

Aurora officials didn’t participate in the expansion process. City representatives usually regulate business issues such as zoning but not business decisions says Kim Stuart, communications director for city of Aurora.

“In this case, I just haven’t gotten any feedback from anybody that there’s been that kind of tracking or awareness of the benefit of their expansion,” Stuart says, explaining that the city is not often in contact with GEO. 

As for the detention facility’s economic impact, Stuart estimated it to be minimal but noted that the information was not a public matter. “We do not measure on that kind of basis … it’s not the kind of thing that we track,” she says.

Attorneys who work in the lockup on behalf of immigrants are concerned about the expansion and the unforeseen effects it will have on ICE operations in the state. The expansion will likely increase the workload for lawyers who represent immigration cases on a pro bono basis.

“If it does expand by as much as they say, we’ll really have to see how we will be able to meet almost a quadrupling of the need for legal assitance,” says Dayna Anderson with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), a nonprofit organization that provides legal services for detained immigrants. “We are stretched thin with just meeting the need that’s currently there,” Anderson says, noting that RMIAN operates with three staff attorneys and additional lawyers who work on a volunteer basis.

It was reported in April that Nolin Renfrow, former Director of Prisons for the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC), had helped the firm obtain an estimated $14 million-a-year contract to build a prison in Ault, Colorado, while still serving as a public official. The DOC rescinded the contract in May. In December a year earlier, the DOC rescinded another agreement with GEO to build a prison in the southern city of Pueblo, after the company failed to start construction in the four years after being awarded the contract.

In July, the federal Government Accountability Office also released a report which found overcrowding troubles at the Aurora facility, along with poor record-keeping on inmates, and unsatisfactory sanitation. According to ICE, the agency has 16 detention facilities with half that are privately operated. Including Aurora, GEO manages federal immigration detention facilities in Washington and Texas.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at