ICE releases investigation into death of immigrant detained at Aurora facility after months of ‘inexcusable’ delay


The report notably does not address a 911 call made from the facility after Calero-Mendoza collapsed, hit his head on a wall and began foaming at the mouth.

On that call, the detention officer at the ICE facility appeared unable to answer basic questions from the 911 dispatcher. The officer said he did not know the facility’s address or how the ambulance could access the building; he did not know what the medical emergency was; he gave the wrong age for Calero-Mendoza; and he put the dispatcher on hold multiple times.

NPR and Colorado Public Radio first reported the contents of the 911 call, which was obtained under a public records request. Experts in emergency medical response told NPR that the call appeared to indicate gaps in training and a disorganized response.

The fact that ICE omitted the 911 call from their investigative report “calls into question the completeness and the methodology they used during their investigation,” said Elizabeth Jordan, an attorney representing Calero-Mendoza’s family.

A spokesperson for ICE did not address NPR’s questions about whether agency investigators reviewed the 911 call and if not, why.

Courtesy of Dorling Peralta
Melvin Ariel Calero-Mendoza (right) stands next to his family in an undated photo. Dorling Peralta (center) holds their baby son, Jasser, while their daughter Aydein hugs her from behind.

Calero-Mendoza’s family has questioned the medical treatment he received in ICE custody and fought for the release of the ICE’s investigation for months.

ICE’s report was completed in March 2023. Despite multiple requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), including from NPR, ICE declined to release the document. In September, U.S. Rep. Jason Crow and Senators Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper, all of whom are Democratic members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, sent a letter to ICE’s acting director, pushing for its release.

In the end, ICE only released the report after Jordan filed a lawsuit, which cited NPR’s reporting, and asked a court to compel the agency to release the document under FOIA.

Jordan called ICE’s delay in releasing the report “inexcusable.”

“The family is deeply frustrated that it has taken this long and taken federal litigation to shake the report loose,” said Jordan. She said they “would like to know what happened, and the government is the only actor involved here who can explain what happened.”

Jordan continues to seek Calero-Mendoza’s detailed medical records, which ICE has not yet handed over.

“Mr. Calero-Mendoza died in an ICE facility over a year ago, the death report was completed over seven months ago, and the family is just now seeing it. That’s unacceptable,” said Rep. Crow, who represents Aurora and has made oversight of the city’s ICE detention center a priority. “Every person should be treated with dignity and respect, and the private, for-profit immigration detention system fails too many communities like ours.”

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesperson did not address any of the findings in the detainee death review. The statement said that, “All facilities that hold ICE detainees are evaluated regularly under ICE’s detention standards, which have requirements for detainee health and safety, legal access, visitation requirements and more.”

The spokesperson did not address why the agency delayed the release of the report.

ICE also contended in its email to NPR that all detainees receive an initial health screening within 12 hours and a full health assessment within 14 days of arrival at a detention facility.

ICE’s own review of Calero-Mendoza’s death, however, directly contradicted the agency’s claim.

The investigation found that the facility took 19 days to conduct a full health assessment, a violation of ICE standards. Other government investigations have found that intake health screenings are a persistent problem. A recent inspector general report examined one of the largest ICE facilities in the country, the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. In a majority of cases examined by the inspector general, detainees received no intake health screening before being locked up.

An ICE spokesperson did not provide any comment on the discrepancy between the findings of ICE’s own investigation and its statement to NPR.

20230421-ICE-AURORAHart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Aurora ICE Processing Center in Aurora, April 21, 2023.

ICE holds the vast majority of immigrant detainees in facilities run by for-profit companies, while a smaller number are placed in county jails. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised to end the government’s reliance on for-profit companies to detain immigrants. In office, however, the Biden administration has more than doubled the number of immigrants held in ICE detention. The White House has said that it continues to support “moving away” from for-profit detention and blamed congress for inaction.

The Aurora ICE Processing Center is run by the GEO Group, a for-profit government contractor. Calero-Mendoza’s death has further intensified scrutiny of the Aurora facility and the medical care it provides detainees.

“As previously and publicly expressed, we offer our condolences to Mr. Calero-Mendoza’s family and remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of all those in our custody and care,” said a GEO Group spokesperson in an emailed statement. While the statement emphasized GEO Group’s commitment to protecting detainees’ health and safety, the spokesperson noted, “We do not comment on specific cases that relate to individuals in the care of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

A 2018 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties found that the Aurora ICE Processing Center’s medical staff did not notify a detainee that they had been diagnosed with HIV, failed to treat detainees’ diabetes and delayed another’s cancer treatment for months. The expert inspector examining the facility wrote that if such problems were found in a hospital, it could be forced to shut down.

The report also rebuked the facility for the death of a 64-year-old immigrant from Iran named Kamyar Samimi, who succumbed to complications of opioid withdrawal while in custody.

“The complete lack of medical leadership, supervision and care that this detainee was exposed to is simply astonishing and stands out as one of the most egregious failures to provide optimal care in my experience,” the medical expert wrote. “It truly appears that this system failed at every aspect of care possible.”

Dr. Parmar said that Calero-Mendoza’s death in 2022 appears to fit a pattern she’s observed in ICE detention facilities across the country.

“We see the same mistakes getting made over and over again,” said Dr. Parmar.


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