Immigration Lockup Expansion Goes to City Council

Private prison firm the GEO Group will have to get approval from the Aurora City Council in order to expand its 400-bed immigration detention facility by an additional 1,100 beds.

Opponents of the proposal vowed to take the issue before the council after the city’s planning commission approved the expansion earlier in April. Now the action has become official with the submission of a formal appeal against the commission decision.
Anthony Paradiso, a property owner near the expansion site, filed the appeal.

According to officials in Aurora’s planning department, appeals of commission decisions are sent to the council for a vote. A hearing on the issue is set for June 2.

The GEO Group has managed the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement lockup in the city since the late 1980s, and estimates the cost of the expansion to be $72 million.

Plans to more than triple the size of the facility have garnered harsh criticism from immigrant rights groups in the state, who have raised concerns about the necessity for more detention space.

Colorado Confidential first reported in November that the expansion was not backed by federal immigration officials when an agency spokesman confirmed that the move was being pursued solely by the GEO Group.

It is not known at this time what the space would be used for without a contract from the federal government, although opponents have speculated that it could incarcerate other inmates not arrested for immigration violations.

The GEO Group has not returned a request for comment.

In April, the Aurora planning commission unanimously approved the expansion of the privately run immigrant detention facility. Panel members based their decision only on the technical merits of the proposal’s site plan.

A City Council meeting will give supporters and opponents a chance to debate the expansion more openly, discussing both the economic and political merits of the plan before a vote.

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 a year ago that a 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 The department rescinded the contract in May.

GEO has also lost a state 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.

For more information, see Colorado Confidential’s continuing coverage of the GEO plans for expansion.

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