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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Private prison industry shifts focus to immigrant detention centers, funding immigration hawks

Early in his term, President Joe Biden signed an executive order barring the Department of Justice from renewing existing contracts with for-profit prisons. Many activists and prison reform advocates hoped this signaled the beginning of the end of private prisons in America. But the private prison industry instead shifted focus to a different form of for-profit detainment: private immigration detention centers. This shift toward immigrant detention, which is now estimated to be a nearly $3 billion industry, comes at a time when for-profit prison companies have spent tens of thousands of dollars donating to politicians who support border security and immigration enforcement policies that would increase the number of detained immigrants in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities. The turn to immigration detention As of June 2022, more than 24,000 immigrants are being detained by ICE and Border Patrol. However, these agencies do not have the necessary infrastructure to house those detainees. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security – which Biden’s executive order ban does not extend to – contracts this responsibility to private companies. As a result, 79% of detained immigrants are held in facilities that are privately owned or operated. Many immigrant rights activists contend that these private detention centers lack the necessary accountability and oversight to prevent abuse. Inadequate access to medical services and other alleged human rights abuses are well-documented in for-profit immigration detention centers. Some of the most egregious claims of medical abuse occurred at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., owned by the private company LaSalle Corporations, where multiple detained immigrant women reportedly underwent forced hysterectomies and other invasive and unnecessary gynecological surgeries. Nevertheless, the federal government’s immigrant detainment policy has continued to be a boon for private prison companies including GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two biggest companies in the field. In an SEC filing from November 2021, GEO Group detailed how despite the loss of $125 million in contracts due to Biden’s executive order, “record increases in migrant flows at the U.S. border have acted as a tailwind” have more than made up for the profits lost. In the fiscal year 2021, GEO Group and CoreCivic grossed $551 million and $552 million respectively from contracts with ICE alone. Contracts with ICE now make up the majority of both GEO Group and CoreCivic’s annual revenue, constituting 36% for GEO Group and 30% for CoreCivic. ICE also started piloting “Alternative to Detention” programs that use electronic monitoring such as GPS ankle monitors to detain and surveil immigrants without formerly incarcerating them. Currently, there are an additional 266,000 immigrant detainees being monitored on such programs. More than 75% of these immigrants are monitored by GEO Group’s subsidiary electronic monitoring company BI Inc. after the company inked a five-year, $2.2 billion deal with the DHS in 2020. Private prison interests boost pro-border security politicians As the the private prisons profit from immigrant detention, the private prison industry has also poured money into political contributions to Republican politicians at the federal level who advocate for increased border security and the expansion of interior immigration enforcement. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the overwhelming top recipient of private prison industry money for the 2022 election cycle at over $62,000, has been a longtime party leader on strengthening border security. In November 2021, Rubio was one of five senators who signed onto a ”Dear Colleague” letter saying they would not under any circumstances vote for a 2022 budget that did not allocate proper funding for border security and border patrol. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), the second biggest recipient of private prison industry money at almost $27,000, is also a staunch border security advocate. In 2021, Moran introduced an amendment to the proposed 2022 budget that would have created a reserve fund for the strengthening the enforcement of immigration laws within the United States’ borders by ICE agents. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who have received $21,765 and $12,500 respectively from the private prison industry, are also noted immigration hawks who support ICE. McCarthy has made multiple visits to the U.S. southern border in the past two years, lambasting the surge in migrants and unaccompanied children as the “Biden border crisis.” The House Minority Leader most recently voted “no” on both the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, two bills that would have provided amnesty and a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children – also known as “DREAMers” – and undocumented immigrant farm workers. Fleischmann has used his position on the Congressional Homeland Security subcommittee to advocate for maintaining and expanding funding not only for ICE’s interior immigration enforcement programs, but also for the number of beds for detained immigrants. The private prison industry directly profits from these zero tolerance immigration policies. “ICE is beginning to implement their interior enforcement strategy,” GEO Group Senior Vice President and former ICE Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations David Venturella said in a 2017 shareholder conference call. “We’ll start to see the benefits of that through increased apprehensions and increased detention in the interior part of the United States, not necessarily along the Southern Border.” GEO Group and CoreCivic give to candidates touting immigration enforcement While the numbers for prison industry money backing federal politicians are telling, GEO Group and CoreCivic have also given considerable amounts to several gubernatorial candidates who are staunch border security and immigration enforcement advocates. Among current gubernatorial candidates, the largest recipient of GEO Group and CoreCivic money is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s 2022 re-election campaign. Kemp has received over $25,000 from the two companies, $18,000 from CoreCivic and $7,000 from GEO Group. Cracking down on illegal immigration has been a central part of Kemp’s platform. In one of his 2018 campaign ads, Kemp stated that he would “round up criminal illegals” himself in his pickup truck. Kemp is one of 10 Republican governors in October 2021 who urged Biden to enact their 10-point immigration plan that called for the deployment of more Border Patrol and ICE agents nationwide as well as the end of “catch and release” programs that allow immigrants to enter the U.S. pending their immigration hearings. Additionally, Georgia is home to the CoreCivic-owned Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin County, the largest ICE detention center in the country. It houses on average over 1,080 detainees per day. There are also plans in place to expand the GEO Group-owned Folkston ICE Processing Center in Charlton County to nearly twice the size of the Stewart Detention Center facility. While Kemp has been an advocate for private prisons, Kemp’s opponent in the general election Stacey Abrams has instead vowed to end all state contracts with private prison companies. Other notable campaign contributions from GEO Group and CoreCivic include two other pro-ICE governors running for re-election in 2022: $5,000 to Idaho Gov. Brad Little and $2,500 to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. Little and Stitt, like Kemp, are also among the 10 Republican governors who traveled to the U.S. border to express their support for the aforementioned Republican 10-point immigration plan that would increase the nation’s number of Border Patrol and ICE agents. The path forward While the business of private detention of immigrants has swelled in the past few years, it has also grown increasingly unpopular as immigration activists and advocates work more and more toward bringing national attention to the issue. In August 2021, Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that would block public and private prisons from signing or renewing contracts with ICE for the detention of immigrants with civil immigration violations. New Jersey joined California, Maryland, Illinois and Washington state in passing legislation to ende or phase out private immigration detention in their states. But while immigrant rights advocates have celebrated these state-level efforts to limit private immigration detention, they have still met resistance. In response to California’s bill phasing out private prisons and private immigration detention facilities, GEO Group and the Department of Justice filed a joint lawsuit challenging the legality of the bill. Judge Kenneth Lee ruled that the California bill could not stand as it conflicted with the “federal power and discretion given to the Secretary [of Homeland Security] in an area that remains in the exclusive realm of the federal government.” This case illustrates the tenuousness of state-level efforts to limit private immigrant detention in the face of federal authority. As such, many immigrant rights advocates are calling on President Biden to fulfill his campaign promise of ending for-profit immigration detention centers at the federal level. In February 2022, 85 immigrants and human rights organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International and the American Immigration Council sent a letter to the inspector general requesting a formal review into the implementation of Biden’s executive order banning for-profit prisons as it relates to private detention centers. The ACLU spent $1.9 million on lobbying in 2021 and $320,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of 2022 on a range of issues, including prison reform and the Private Prison Information Act. The most recent iteration of the Private Prison Information Act introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) in November 2021 is also endorsed by the ACLU. “On too many fronts, the Biden administration is failing to deliver on its promises to end the inhumane treatment of immigrants,” said Isra Chaker, a campaign strategist for the ACLU, on the group’s website. “We are calling on the Biden administration to shut down detention sites where thousands of people languish for months or even years. Many of these sites have well-established records of horrific conditions, reports of abuse and serious medical neglect.” For more information, contact us at: http://www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com/index.html

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