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Coloradans Rally for Hunger Strikers in Detention; Protests Spread

Asylum seekers being held at a detention center in Aurora say they are on hunger strike and will be greeted by supporters today. (iStockphoto/C_FOR)
Asylum seekers being held at a detention center in Aurora say they are on hunger strike and will be greeted by supporters today. (iStockphoto/C_FOR)
December 8, 2015

DENVER - Advocates for immigrants' rights are gathering today outside the GEO Group detention center in Aurora in support of detainees whom they say have joined a hunger strike that now includes more than 100 people in six states.

Paromita Shah, an attorney and associate director of the National Lawyers Guild, said people who followed the rules and presented themselves at the border seeking asylum continue to be held captive, some for as long as two years.

"We're seeing the detention of families who are fleeing persecution from places where there's just such awful political violence that's occurring," she said, "and what I really hope America could stand behind is that people should not be subjected to indefinite detention."

She said the detainees want an end to deportation and indefinite detentions, improved conditions in detention and a rollback of Congress' mandate that ICE fill 34,000 beds each night. GEO issued a statement Monday denying that detainees are on strike and contending that the facility routinely scores high in inspections by the American Correctional Association.

Shah said asylum seekers who pass tests demonstrating a "credible fear" of returning to their home countries can end up in a holding pattern as they await their chance to appear before an immigration judge. Before ICE's bed quota, Shah said, applicants were released into the community, since people who want to remain in the country pose no flight risk. She said the new policy can leave taxpayers on the hook for as much as $250 a night per detainee.

"Detention is a $2 billion industry," she said. "I think what we find troubling on our end is that, when there's private prisons involved, prisons expect to make a buck over the number of people that are detained in the facility."

Shah said hunger strikes are taking place at some 10 facilities across Alabama, California, Colorado, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas. Strikers in Orange County won a promise of release on Friday.

In Aurora, supporters planned to gather at 10 a.m. today outside the GEO center at 3130 N. Oakland St. in Aurora.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO