Aurora Panel Set To Decide on Immigrant Lockup Expansion

The Aurora Planning Commission is set to vote this evening on whether a private prison contractor can expand a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in the city.

The GEO Group, the company that runs the ICE lockup, is seeking to increase the size of the 400-bed detention center by 1,100 beds at an estimated cost of $72 million. But immigrant rights activists are planning to demonstrate before the commission meeting to protest the proposed expansion. Members with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, an organization composed of dozens of civil rights groups throughout the state, are going to protest and then testify at the planning commission meeting. The coalition is questioning conditions inside the ICE lockup and is wary of the for-profit aspect involved with detaining immigrants in Aurora.

Officials with ICE have claimed that the federal agency is not behind the expansion, characterizing the move as strictly a decision by GEO. According to ICE, the agency has 16 detention facilities, half of them privately operated. Including Aurora, GEO manages federal immigration detention facilities in Washington and Texas.

In July the federal Government Accountability Office released a report that found overcrowding troubles at the Aurora facility, along with poor record-keeping and unsatisfactory sanitation.

It was also reported in April 2007 that Nolin Renfrow, former director of prisons for the Colorado Department of Corrections, had helped GEO obtain an estimated $14 million-a-year contract to build a prison in Ault, Colo., while still serving as a public official.

The department rescinded the contract in May. In December 2006 GEO lost a contract to build a prison in the southern city of Pueblo, after the company failed to start construction within four years of being awarded the contract.

According to Aurora planning department staffers, there is no official representative of the planning commission, which is composed of seven members appointed by the city council. However, officials did stress that the commission will be looking only at specific site plan logistics for the expansion rather than getting into an immigration debate.

If the planning commission approves the expansion, the final decision will be up to the Aurora City Council. Immigration Rights Coalition organizers have confirmed that the coalition will appeal the decision if it supports additional construction on the ICE facility.

Read more of Colorado Confidential’s coverage on the GEO Group.

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