A vigil about the true cost of family separation

Outside a controversial detention center in Colorado, protestors highlight both the family burdens from and the profitability of deportation.

 

Protesters gather outside Aurora Colorado's immigration detention facility. Nearly 1,500 men and women are detained in the center.
Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

On a hot July evening, Henry Javier Cruz-Moreno’s wife and stepdaughter joined others outside the Aurora Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, just outside Denver, where Cruz-Moreno been held for eight months. They were protesting a system that has separated tens of thousands of families, including their own.

At the time of the protest, Henry Javier Cruz-Moreno was 2,000 miles away from his family, in Honduras, where he was deported in May. 

“I cried,” said his stepdaughter, Farah Broomandi, recalling the hearing at which a judge ordered Cruz-Moreno to be sent back to Honduras. “I said, ‘The man that youre sending away feeds needy people. He owns a business, he pays taxes. He shovels old peoples sidewalks. These are the people youre sending away.’ ”

Cruz-Moreno’s detention and eventual deportation have imposed a tremendous emotional, medical and financial burden on the family. Broomandi was forced to sell her house and move back in with her mother.

On July 12, the two women were among about 2,000 people who attended a vigil as part of Lights for Liberty, a worldwide protest against family separation and detention centers. Several hundred people participated in an earlier protest, “March to Close the Concentration Camps,” which made its way from the local light-rail station to the ICE facility, and was greeted by approving honks from passing cars. The protests in Aurora aren’t new: Locals have been opposed to the detention center for at least half a decade.

“Im a grandmother, Im a mother, and I just think whats happening is appalling,” said Patty Lampman, the Air Force veteran who organized the vigil. “Im somebody who served my country for 20 years. This is not OK. This is not what we should be about.”

Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented migrant currently seeking sanctuary in a local church, participated in the protest remotely. “My heart is full of hope to see so many people wanting to support the immigrant community,” she said in a statement that was read aloud by a supporter. In 2017, Vizguerra made national news for spending 86 days in a local church to avoid deportation.

“Today, people are aware and awakened to the reality that this president is turning this into a country full of injustices by using the worst, inhumane strategies,” she said. “And who will take responsibility for these acts? What role does Congress have in this holocaust?”

Located on the outskirts of Aurora, 3130 Oakland St. is a forbidding brick behemoth with few windows, set back from the street by a grassy moat. Inside, nearly 1,500 men and women are detained, awaiting possible deportation. Run by the controversial for-profit GEO Group, the Aurora ICE facility has a reputation for medical neglect. In June, 152 prisoners were quarantined due to outbreaks of infectious diseases such as mumps and chicken pox, and in 2017, Iranian national Kamyar Samimi died in custody after suffering from opioid withdrawal.

“Like all Americans, we at the GEO Group are concerned about the unprecedented humanitarian crisis at our southern border; we acknowledge the challenge, but we are appalled by this historically and factually inaccurate portrayal of our facilities,” a spokesperson for the GEO Group said in response to the protest. 

When Danielle Jefferis, a clinical fellow at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, pointed out that GEO made over $2 billion in revenue in 2018 because “detention is a profitable business,” the crowd chanted in reply, “Shame!” Since 2014, the company’s revenue has grown by $600 million. In 2002, private immigrant detention centers in America held fewer than 5,000 people; by 2017, the imprisoned population had ballooned to 26,000.

In Aurora, locals have taken action. A volunteer-run humanitarian organization, Casa de Paz, has been helping locally held detainees and their families since 2012, and the district’s newly elected representative, Democrat Jason Crow, has made detention center oversight a priority, introducing a bill that would require detention facilities to admit members of Congress for inspections within 48 hours of notice.

During the vigil, a small faction of the protesters crossed the bridge that separates the facility from the street, something that organizers had warned them against. As the sun set, some of them took down three flags outside the building and replaced them with a Mexican flag and a defaced, upside-down American flag. Police then told organizers that the protest had to disperse, but no arrests were made.

Though most protesters left, several hundred stayed until 9 p.m., when they lit candles, raising them in the darkness to silently proclaim solidarity with immigrants and families like Cruz-Moreno’s.

Dan Garisto is a freelance journalist based in New York. He writes about science for publications such as Scientific American, Hakai, Symmetry, and Science News. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM MANAGER
    Associate Program Manager ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our State Parks thrive. From redwood groves and desert springs...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • FREE RANGE BISON AVAILABLE
    Hard grass raised bison available in east Montana. You harvest or possible deliver quartered carcass to your butcher or cut/wrapped pickup. Contact Crazy Woman Bison...
  • CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE - OKANOGAN LAND TRUST (NORTH CENTRAL WA)
    Do you enjoy rural living, wild places, and the chance to work with many different kinds of people and accomplish big conservation outcomes? Do you...
  • CARDIGAN WELSH CORGIS
    10 adorable, healthy puppies for sale. 4 males and 6 females. DM and PRA clear. Excellent pedigree from champion lineage. One Red Brindle male. The...
  • A CHILDREN'S BOOK FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS!!
    "Goodnight Fossil Fuels!" is a an engaging, beautiful, factual and somewhat silly picture book by a climate scientist and a climate artist, both based in...
  • DIGITAL ADVOCACY & MEMBERSHIP MANAGER
    The Digital Advocacy & Membership Manager will be responsible for creating and delivering compelling, engaging digital content to Guardians members, email activists, and social media...
  • DIGITAL OUTREACH COORDINATOR, ARIZONA
    Job Title: Digital Outreach Coordinator, Arizona Position Location: Phoenix or Tucson, AZ Status: Salaried Job ID Number: 52198 We are looking for you! We are...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator who is passionate about conservation and...
  • INDIAN COUNTRY FELLOWSHIP
    Western Leaders Network is accepting applications for its paid, part-time, 6-month fellowship. Mentorship, training, and engaging tribal leaders in advancing conservation initiatives and climate policy....
  • MULESHOE RANCH PRESERVE MANAGER
    The Muleshoe Ranch Preserve Manager develops, manages, and advances conservation programs, plans and methods for large-scale geographic areas. The Muleshoe Ranch Cooperative Management Area (MRCMA)...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 52 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • ASSISTANT OR ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES
    Assistant or Associate Professor of Environmental Humanities Whitman College The Environmental Humanities Program at Whitman College seeks candidates for a tenure-track position beginning August 2023...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) in Crested Butte, CO is seeking an enthusiastic Executive Director who is passionate about the public lands, natural waters and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with volunteer management experience to join...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The conservation non-profit Invasive Species Action Network seeks an executive director. We are focused on preventing the human-caused spread of invasive species by promoting voluntary...