The head of Longmont’s El Comite said immigation officials are trying to brush off the death of a 39-year-old man while he was in custody at a private U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Aurora on Oct. 13 as a rare event and not a pattern of abuse.
“They were saying they have had only three deaths at the ICE facility” over the past 30 years, Donna Lovato said this week. “Dude…we are saying one death is too many.”
El Comite, along with other immigrant rights groups, expressed their outrage and calls for transparency at the ICE facility this week in letters sent ICE officials, Lovato said. The detention center is managed by the private GEO Group.
“Basically, we are saying they shouldn’t be having any deaths there. One is too many. Our community wants some answers.”
“We are saying ‘What the heck,’” Lovato said.
Lovato said El Comite has also offered to help the family of Melvin Calero-Mendoza, who has been at the ICE detention center since May 2. He was apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol April 13 and was at the Aurora facility awaiting completion of his removal proceedings, according to a news release from the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.
Carlero-Mendoza was a Nicaraguan father of two. His niece told Channel 4 news that the family have been given limited information on his death, only that he fell, began convulsing and was taken to an Aurora Hospital. It remains unclear how he died.
ICE said in a news release that an autopsy is pending to pinpoint the exact cause of death.
Carlero-Medoza’s niece told Channel 4 her uncle came to the United States looking for a job and was hoping to be reunited with family members in Indiana one day.
“He was a hard worker, since he was a kid,” the niece told Channel 4. “And he got there (the United States), wanting to ask for asylum.” The niece added that her uncle had no underlying health condition.
"The loss of Melvin is an avoidable loss," Laura Lunn, the director of advocacy and litigation with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network told Channel 4. "He was only 39 years old. There must have been some type of catastrophic incident for him to pass away that suddenly."
In a statement an ICE spokesperson said deaths in custody are exceedingly rare. The agency continued, saying it is "firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident."
But Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District and who is a frequent critic of the ICE facility, wants the Department of Public Safety to conduct a full and quick investigation of the death.
“Saying things only happen three times every 30 years, is not an answer," Crow told Channel 4. "This is not the way we should be doing business. This is somebody's family member, somebody's loved one."
Lovato said detainees at the ICE facility have sometimes reached out to El Comite for help in navigating the immigration process. She said ICE has a responsibility to keep detainees safe.
“This type of thing keeps happening and it has to stop,” Lovato said.