Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include comment from a BI spokeswoman.
More than 100 people congregated on the sidewalk outside BI Inc. in the north Boulder business park Thursday night to protest the company’s lucrative contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The company was founded in 1978 as a cattle-monitoring service but has since expanded its operations to include the management of a major program on behalf of ICE — the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, which is billed as an alternative to detention for people awaiting immigration proceedings or deportation — and secured ICE contracts worth more than half a billion dollars over the last decade and a half. It also is a subsidiary of The Geo Group, which runs an ICE facility in Aurora, among other locations.
A Homeland Security inspector general report released earlier this month noted violations of agency policy at the Aurora facility that ranged from unnecessary handcuffing to food-borne illness risks, as well as more severe violations in other facilities it runs.
Protest organizers, led by Indivisible Front Range Resistance, said BI Inc. and The Geo Group are profiting from ICE raids, accelerated detainments and human rights violations. Protesters waved signs and shouted together, “Say it loud. Say it clear. Immigrants are welcome here.”
Volunteer and Boulder resident Bruce Norikane explained to the crowd how personal the current administration’s policies are to him. His parents and grandparents were incarcerated in internment camps during World War II.
“There were no hearings,” he said. “They were not even accused of a crime.”
However, Norikane said, as horrible and unconstitutional as that was, it is happening again today and it is worse.
“Today, we have a choice,” he said, to cheers from the crowd. “We can stand up. We can stop this, and that’s what we’re here for today.”
In an interview, Norikane said his parents — who had not yet met — and their families both lost thriving California farms when they were uprooted first to a horse racetrack before spending four years in internment camps in Arkansas.
“It was very much like today,” he said. “It was preceded by a lot of racist commentary. There were newspaper reports; there were radio talk shows that talked about the yellow peril and the menace.”
Today, the for-profit companies are exacerbating the situation, he said.
“For-profit companies want to maximize the amount of revenue that they get,” he said. “They are constantly agitating for more and more incarceration, for holding (people) longer. … They make a fortune.”
Protesters marched from outside the BI Inc. building to the nearby intersection of Gunbarrel Avenue and 63rd Street, where they called for unity, condemned border walls and advocated for the abolition of ICE — and drew honks from passing motorists.
Karen Orona, a Longmont resident who works with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, came with a megaphone tucked under her arm. Her parents spent decades living undocumented, she said.
“This is very personal to me,” Orona said. “To know that a company in Boulder County is profiting from the desperation of immigrants pisses me off.”
With her megaphone, Orona led the crowd in chants of “Si, se puede,” a United Farm Workers of America motto that translates to “Yes we can,” and, in this case, she hoped would encourage people to call for the end of criminalization of migrants and the separation of families and to use their voices.
Nearby, Kathleen Christensen, a Boulder resident, carried a homemade sign that read, “Profiting from cruelty is immoral.”
“I’m horrified by what has been happening at the border,” Christensen said. “I have a daughter. I’m a mom. … Everything I’ve heard about is just so horrifying. It’s hard to understand how people don‘t have empathy for children and families who are fleeing violence and trying to find a better life.”
Brett Adamek, another Boulder resident who joined the protest, was adopted from Korea.
“I’ve had so many opportunities in this country,” Adamek said. “It’s just the luck of the draw that I happened to be born into a situation where I could come here legally, but I really, on a deep level, understand that everybody should have that opportunity, too. These people are not criminals. They’re seeking safety and shelter.
“I’m just appalled by what’s happening.”
Katie Farnan, a volunteer and organizer, called on attendees to take action, including: asking the Boulder Chamber of Commerce to remove BI Inc. as a member, pushing other members to cancel until that happens, asking Boulder City Council to divest from private prison or detention companies, pressing the owners of BI Inc.’s building to vacate it, and asking BI Inc. to cancel contracts with ICE.
A BI representative did not respond to a message requesting comment prior to the protest, but the company issued a statement Friday. Monica Hook, vice president of Geo Care Strategic Marketing, said in a written statement that government agencies determine how the technology is used, not the company.
“BI Incorporated is proud to be a Boulder-based business,” Hook said. “For the last 40 years, we’ve worked closely with government agencies at all levels — local, state and federal — to provide technology and services that enhance public safety. We never make any determination about how or with whom our technology is used. Those decisions are made entirely by the government agencies we contract with that have statutory authority over the individuals being monitored/supervised. Generally speaking, agencies use our technology as an alternative to detention or incarceration. Our technology is safe and effective. We are a U.S.-based manufacturer and spend millions of dollars each year with local electronics and plastics providers, in support of our Colorado economy.”
John Tayer, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber, said the chamber supports BI Inc. and will maintain the company as a member for the time being.
“We certainly support those who are looking after the interests of the immigrant population,” he said. “We have also been concerned about reports unassociated with the company regarding mistreatment and are happy that people are speaking out on those issues. But with respect to BI in particular, as with any company, absent any finding of unethical business practice or disinterest in addressing it, we would not stand in judgment of their activities.”
Protests of The GEO Group and ICE have increased in Colorado in recent days, Westword reported, and a Jewish prayer protest is scheduled at the Aurora detention facility Sunday afternoon.
“With the raids and the mounting and growing reports of immigrant abuse and deaths and family separation, it has become so loud you can’t look away,” Farnan said.