Editor’s note: This photo story has been updated with statements from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and the Boulder County Democratic Socialists of America.
Hundreds gathered in Aurora Friday evening to protest immigrant detention at the border and across the country — including at the ICE detention center in Aurora, which is run by the private prison company GEO Group. Friday’s events began with a “March to Close The Concentration Camps,” organized by democratic socialists, among other activists. Their walk stretched down Peoria Street toward the GEO facility.
At the GEO detention center, the march converged with another gathering, called “Lights for Liberty,” a global rally and call to action protesting the government’s treatment of migrants. Between the two groups, there were more than 1,000 people present. Facing the detention center from the street, people chanted and some immigrant rights advocates and lawyers offered speeches.
Some in the crowd moved onto the GEO facility’s property. Those pictured here are facing the rest of the crowd. There was a prayer ceremony led by indigenous activists. Chants and speeches continued.
A massive crowd flooded the street and sidewalks outside the GEO facility.
At one point, some in the crowd rushed to the front of the building. Two young people lowered the GEO Group flag. Cheers intensified.
There was some tension between certain individuals in the two groups that came together Friday evening. Some remained behind a makeshift barrier set up by event organizers, while other, more radical protestors roved about the property. Eventually, the barrier was dismantled.
Protestors not only took down the GEO flag, but also the facility’s American flag and Colorado flag. They replaced these three with, from left, the Mexican flag; an upside-down and spray painted “thin blue line” American flag tagged with “Abolish ICE”; and a third, custom flag with artwork and the message, “f*** cops.”
The actions were condemned by immigrant rights groups, including the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which on Saturday issued a statement saying, in part: “We unequivocally denounce the actions of rogue protestors who stormed the for-profit detention camp and replaced the American flag with the Mexican flag yesterday. These protestors put the undocumented families who were attending a peaceful vigil at the same location in danger of being arrested and caused harm to the immigrant rights movement.”
The Boulder County Democratic Socialists of America on Sunday responded to its critics by saying that “the protection of undocumented people is of highest importance,” to it, and that, instead, the actions of a Lights of Liberty organizer posed a greater threat. “Immigrants and people of color live under the constant threat of violence from police,” the statement said, and, at one point, an organizer told the crowd that Aurora Police had ordered the group to disperse, prompting many to leave. (The Aurora Police chief told the Aurora Sentinel that he never ordered such a dispersal.)
As for the flags, the statement continued, the action was spontaneous and carried out by a “cross-section” of protestors. “Using respectability politics to denounce actions taken by and alongside impacted immigrants and people of color is shameful, divisive, and plays into the hands of authorities who prefer a quiet and complacent public. Legality and morality are not synonymous, and no movement against authoritarian policy can be successful if individuals are unnerved by simple and peaceful civil disobedience.”
As night fell, the large group remained and held a candlelight vigil to, in the words of Lights for Liberty organizers, “shine a light on the horrific abuses of the Trump administration in human detention camps.” The crowd dispersed peacefully around 9 p.m.