DENVER — Colorado lawmakers are calling for an independent investigation into the recent death of a Nicaraguan national who was being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Aurora.
In a letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Democratic Senators Michael Bennet, John Hickenlooper and Democratic Congressman Jason Crow are seeking an investigation into the death of Melvin Ariel Calero-Mendoza, 39, at the Aurora GEO Group facility, a privately-owned ICE detention center.
Calero-Mendoza was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol while entering the U.S. in April and transferred to ICE custody May 2 in Aurora to await completion of his removal proceedings, according to a release from the immigration agency.
The ICE detainee died on Oct. 13. In a news release published by ICE the next day, they said an autopsy is pending to determine the official cause of death. However, those results have yet to be released.
In the letter to the inspector general, lawmakers wrote, “We are also concerned about detainees who reportedly witnessed Mr. Calero-Mendoza’s symptoms and eventual collapse.” They are urging the agency to maintain access to those witnesses and be protected from “harm and intimidation” or from being transferred.
Bennet, Hickenlooper and Crow said their call for an investigation was prompted by the facility’s history, which they call negative and resulted in additional Congressional oversight.
“Following reports of disturbing public health conditions in February 2019, Congressman Crow called for a congressional hearing to investigate activities of the GEO Group, introduced legislation increasing access to federal immigration detention centers for members of Congress and their staff, and initiated weekly visits to the Facility to provide oversight. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we raised further concerns regarding rapid disease spread at the Facility and continued to advocate for appropriate medical care and protective measures,” the letter said.
In the Oct. 14 release from ICE, the agency said, “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases. Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.”