Opponents of ICE suffer another loss at the ballot box

Jason Hopkins, DCNF.  DCNF

A former GOP congressman declared victory in a Colorado mayoral election days after Election Day, marking yet another defeat for immigration activists who failed to mobilize voters in 2019.

Mike Coffman, a former Colorado Republican congressman, declared victory Thursday to become the city of Aurora’s next mayor. Coffman’s victory not only signaled the end of a razor-thin election that dragged on for days, but it also marked a significant defeat for critics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), many of whom attempted to make the fate of a local immigrant detention facility a major facet of the election.

“I think the energy toward GEO is misdirected. I just visited Arapahoe County Jail, and it didn’t look too good to me, either,” Coffman said in the run-up to the November elections. He was speaking about GEO Group, a company that operates a number of immigrant detention facilities across the country — including the Aurora Detention Facility.

Despite its operation in the town for over 30 years, many progressive activists in Colorado have recently become hostile toward the Aurora Detention Facility, swept up in the nationwide debate over privately held prisons. The fate of the detention center — which contracts with ICE and can hold well over 1,000 detainees — has become a major focal point in Aurora politics.

Fox 31 Denver

Coffman supports keeping the facility open, but his mayoral opponent — former Aurora NAACP leader Omar Montgomery — expressed interest in seeing it transitioned into something else.

“I’m just not a fan of private prisons,” he said when asked about the Aurora Detention Facility. Montgomery opposes the privatization of immigration detention altogether, and said he would like to see the Aurora facility turned into a treatment center for opioid-abuse treatment.

Despite the mayoral election being a nonpartisan affair, a host of liberal Democratic groups lined up to support Montgomery — including progressive organizations that have taken extreme measures to protest immigrant detention. Abolish ICE Denver, Colorado People’s Action, and the Progressive Democrats of America are just a few of the liberal groups that endorsed Montgomery’s candidacy — and some of them have been involved in extremist activity.

Abolish ICE activists in September doxxed the Aurora facility administrator’s personal address and orchestrated a protest of about 100 people outside his home. The Daily Caller News Foundation obtained footage of the some of the protesters who demonstrated in front of his house. Aurora police were ultimately forced to maintain security, leading to the arrest of three people. Later on, Abolish ICE encouraged its supporters to vote for Montgomery.

Montgomery touted an endorsement from Colorado People’s Action, a progressive outfit that operates in the state. The group has been heavily involved in immigrant activism, having organized a campaign in 2018 to shut the Aurora detention facility down, and it campaigned to allow illegal aliens obtain driver’s licenses in the state. In a questionnaire for Colorado People’s Action, Montgomery said he was “deeply disturbed” by the presence of the facility in Aurora and reiterated his desire to see it changed into something else.

Federal immigration authorities have pushed back against the idea that the Aurora facility is anything less than adequate.

“The biggest misnomer is that this place is a mess,” ICE field office director John Fabbricatore told the DCNF and other reporters who toured the facility in August. “We’ve seen that in the media and that is not true. I mean, all of you can see for yourself and we’ve had multiple tours in here — this place is not dirty. These people are taken care of,” he continued. “We want to make sure everyone is treated with dignity when they come into this facility.”

The mayoral election also marked a huge defeat for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Colorado, which is suing GEO Group, said the detention center is rampant with inhumane conditions, despite local politicians visiting the facility and reporting to see a clean and orderly environment. Ahead of the November elections, the ACLU said it would reach out to more than 25,000 Aurora citizens through a massive voter outreach initiative.

Nevertheless, Coffman emerged victorious after a prolonged vote count.

“I am honored to receive a vote of confidence by one of the most diverse cities in America to be their next mayor and help shape its future,” the former Republican congressman said Thursday. Montgomery has yet to concede, but announced he would be addressing supporters Monday.

Aurora was not the only local election where anti-immigration enforcement activists lost. Despite what was generally a good election year for national Democrats, illegal alien activists saw big defeats in New Jersey and in Tucson, Arizona.

Voters in Sussex County, New Jersey, voted Nov. 2 by a margin of 2-1 in favor of a non-binding referendum calling on the county government to cooperate with ICE. The vote, which coincided with GOP victories across the state, was viewed as a backlash against sanctuary policies adopted by New Jersey’s top lawman. Democratic Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive a year ago that largely prohibits local and state law enforcement from helping ICE make apprehensions.

On the same day, Tucson — a blue enclave in a largely red state — overwhelmingly voted against a proposal that would have given sweeping protections to illegal aliens, prohibited local cooperation with federal immigration authorities, and designated Tucson as a “sanctuary city.” Over 71% of Tucson voters opposed the measure.

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