A Mexican flag flew over Aurora's immigrant detention facility the evening of July 12, as two very different protests converged to condemn American immigration policy.
Hundreds of protesters, organized by a group called “Lights for Liberty” that arranged protests in cities around Colorado and the nation, stood along Oakland Street in north Aurora outside the detention center run by GEO Group Inc.
The private facility holds immigrants for processing by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The facility has come under fire in recent months amid disease outbreaks and allegations of poor conditions. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District, recently announced plans to conduct weekly inspections of the facility.
The Lights for Liberty group stood behind a barricade at the end of a small bridge across from the facility, hearing speeches from activists and organizers who condemned immigrant detention facilities on the southern U.S. border, and policies that separate the children of asylum seekers from their parents.
The group drew a broad range of participants, including church groups, parents with young children and seniors.
Nadia Singh, of Denver, who said she is the daughter of Guyanese immigrants, said she attended to spread a message of love and peace.
“My parents came here to give me a better life,” Singh said. “I know in my heart that everyone in that facility is here for the same reason: to seek a better life. People are equals, regardless of their immigration status, and we should treat them the way we would want to be treated ourselves.”
Meanwhile, another group called the March to Close the Concentration Camps pushed past the barricade and took down the American flag, Colorado state flag and GEO Group flag in front of the facility.
In their place, the protesters raised a Mexican flag, an upside-down Blue Lives Matter flag splattered in red paint and a homemade flag with an anti-police message. A pair of protesters used an aerosol can and a lighter to set fire to the Colorado state flag, while others stomped on the American flag.
Back on the street, the Lights for Liberty organizers pleaded with the more radical group to retreat, saying their tactics put the rest of the protest in jeopardy.
Rumors swirled through the crowd that police had issued a dispersal order and were massing nearby to arrest protesters, though the Aurora Police Department said via Twitter that no such order had been given.
Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz addressed his department's approach in a statement on social media.
"There are those who believe that once the flags were removed and burned we should have moved in on the massive crowd," he wrote, in part. "I completely share those sentiments, but it’s also important that we are strategic in doing what we can to not escalate a situation to where our officers and innocent protestors could get hurt."
Metz said police would be reviewing "any available video in order to identify and pursue prosecution of those involved in criminal behavior."
By 9 p.m. many members of the group at the entrance of the facility had departed, leaving the Lights for Liberty group to hold its planned candlelight and flashlight vigil for immigrant detainee rights.
An organizer lamented the actions of the group that crossed the barricade, saying their actions forced many protest participants whose immigration status is in question to flee for fear of arrest.
Thomas Lopez Jr., an organizer and activist with the International Indigenous Youth Council, said he hoped the protest was only the beginning.
“It's really good to see our community here,” Lopez said. “I hope we can keep this energy up and focus it on something positive. Whatever people choose to do, I hope it's non-violent and with drive and intention.”
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