U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is soliciting private-sector interest in a new detention center to hold 1,000 people in South Texas, according to a notice posted Wednesday on a federal contracting site.
The post is a preliminary request for information, asking for room to house men and women within 50 miles of I-35. ICE said its preference is for a facility dedicated to holding its detainees, but it would consider a large facility with inmates from another agency. The agency said it will consider pre-existing facilities, renovated old facilities or new construction.
The contract would mean more good news for the private prison industry, which has rebounded quickly under President Donald Trump. A year ago, the federal government seemed poised to end deals with the private prison industry’s biggest players, after federal inspectors noted safety concerns in their facilities.
The new South Texas facility likely would be the largest since then, according to Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based nonprofit that tracks private prisons and advocates against expanding them.
“This would continue the trend of this administration’s giveaways to the private prison industry at the expense of immigrants that it’s targeting for deportation,” Libal said. The region already is home to many of ICE’s largest detention centers, in remote towns without easy access to legal help, he said.
“I would question the logic behind this,” he said, “because from what we’ve heard, for the most part, asylum-seeking folks, that population hasdeclined in the first few months, while internal apprehensions have increased.” Read more about ICE issues plan to detain 1,000 more migrants in Texas
The company's problems didn't end there, though. GEO and other leading for-profit prison corporations have been plagued by health and safety issues for years, with prisoner and staff complaints and wrongful-death lawsuits piling up like mounds of unopened jail mail.
Since 1997, private prisons have been
by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to annually house more than 34,000 federal inmates.
But the companies have enjoyed a lucrative relationship with the federal government. Since 1997, they’ve been paid billions by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to annually house more than 34,000 federal inmates. It was a convenient arrangement for a nation with the world’s highest prison population, underpinned by a belief that private corporations could do the job cheaper and better.
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas advocacy group that has opposed the private-prison industry for the last 20 years, offered a blunt assessment: “These are very troubled facilities that have a history of people dying of entirely preventable medical conditions or violence.” Read more about Dead Bodies and Billions in Tax Dollars
(CONROE, Texas) — Montgomery County residents rallied yesterday outside the County Commissioners building against the new 1,000-bed detention center being built right next to the existing Joe Corley Detention Center and Montgomery County Mental Health Facility. The White Construction Company has already broken ground on the new facility, called the Montgomery ICE Processing Center according to a sign at the construction site. Read more about Montgomery County residents protest massive new for-profit immigrant detention camp: Construction begins on first new detention camp under Trump administration
This week, Texas lawmakers advanced a bill crafted by for-profit prison interests that would license lockups for asylum-seeking immigrant families as child care providers.
Senate Bill 1018, which would lower state standards for two South Texas immigrant detention centers so they can qualify as Texas-approved "family residential centers," passed its first hurdle in the Texas Senate on Tuesday with a 20-11 vote along party lines. Immigrant rights advocates opposed to it say it's just the state's latest attempt to help keep the family lockups open as federal court orders threaten to shutter them. Democratic lawmakers fighting the bill say it would license "baby jails."
The feds' last foray into family detention was at the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center in central Texas that was run by CCA. There, immigration lawyers and human rights activists complained of children dressed in prison-like jumpsuits and kept in small cells for 14 hours a day. A legal challenge by the ACLU ultimately forced the feds to pull children out of Hutto in 2009, citing a longstanding legal settlement that was supposed to bar the feds from ever again holding immigrant kids in a prison-like environment.
Which is why lawyers challenged the practice of holding kids at Dilley and Karnes, sometimes for months. A year after they opened, a federal judge in California delivered a pair of court rulings that unambiguously condemned the practice of child detention, writing that the government hadn't provided "any competent evidence" to support its argument for jailing asylum-seeking families as a default measure. As part of her ruling, the judge said the feds couldn’t hold kids in facilities that aren’t licensed to house or care for children.
Advocacy groups like Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which has criticized the conditions immigrants are housed in at Dilley and Karnes, thought the courts were on the verge of forcing an end to family detention. After all, when dealing with complaints over facilities like Hutto, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services had previously insisted it had no oversight role over private prison-run immigrant detention centers that house children in Texas and couldn't license them or hold them to a higher standard.
Grassroots had to sue to force Texas child welfare officials to even hold apublic hearing on the matter, which did not go particularly well for the agency. Child welfare experts, immigrant rights advocates, former immigrant detainees and even a woman born behind barbed wire in a Japanese internment camp condemned the practice of family detention and insisted state licensing would only enable a practice that's destructive to healthy child development. Mothers spoke of being separated from their children for extended periods of time and inadequate medical care. Mental health experts who'd visited the facilities spoke of children losing weight, shedding hair and exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and depression in lockup. Social workers claimed they'd been reprimanded by private prison staff for trying to help suffering mothers or children navigate the facility's grievance process.
Then last December, a Travis County judge blocked DFPS from licensing the child lockups, ruling that the state can't arbitrarily lower its standards in order to cover a couple of private prison facilities.
So lobbyists with the GEO Group, which operates the Karnes detention center, decided to try another route. As the Associated Press reported last month, the company helped draft the proposal now snaking through the Texas Legislature that would give DFPS the authority to license the detention centers. Its supporters argue it's a way to ensure families aren't separated in detention; Democrats arguing against the measure in the Senate Tuesday called it a "vendor bill."
If the bill passes a third reading in the Senate, it moves on to the state House. Still, it's unclear whether lawmakers will have enough time to send the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk before the fast-approaching end of the session on May 29.
But to Grassroots executive director Bob Libal, whose group sued the state over the licensing issue, the episode constitutes just another state attempt to help private prison corporations keep alive the controversial practice of family detention.
"The push to license the family jails has never been about protecting children, but about protecting the profits of private prison companies," Libal said in a prepared statement last month. "The state should stand up to these interests and for the rights of children and reject these unjust bills." Read more about Will Texas Lawmakers License "Baby Jails" For Asylum-Seeking Families?
The private prison companies that run detention centers for immigrant kids and their mothers have a problem: They can’t legally hold families for an extended period in Texas unless they are licensed as child care facilities. The Texas Legislature has a solution, though. On Wednesday, a Senate committee advanced legislation that would simply lower the state standards for family detention centers. The prison firms could skip all the burdensome regulations that other child care facilities must deal with.
“The point of the bill is to slap a license on the family detention center without substantially changing their operation,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an immigrant rights group. “It’s an attempt to maintain and expand the system of for-profit family detention.”
Senate Bill 1018 would effectively lower state standards for family detention centers in order to license them as child care facilities. For example, the bill would allow DFPS to permit minors to share a room with unrelated adults, as sometimes happens in immigrant detention.
Due to federal court rulings, family detention centers can currently only hold children for a few weeks at a time, but the legislation would allow the centers to detain mothers and children for the duration of their legal cases, which can take months or even longer.
The Associated Press reported last week that SB 1018 was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group, a prison company that runs the 830-bed Karnes County Residential Center. The facility brings in $55 million per year for the company from the federal government.
Despite opposition from advocates, formerly detained families and Democratic lawmakers, the bill will now move to the full Senate. Read more about Bill to License 'Baby Jails' as Child Care Facilities Clears First Legislative Hurdle
A private-prison company that has for years been in the crosshairs of immigrant rights groups announced Thursday it will build a $110 million detention complex in the Houston metro area.
The Florida-based GEO Group said in a news release its new facility will be built in the city of Conroe as part of a 10-year, renewable contract with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The detention center will be finished toward the end of 2018, the company said. The Associated Press first reported the story.
Immigrant advocacy groups said the move signals the beginning of President Trump’s efforts to expand detentions and begin fast-tracking the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. Part of the president's Jan. 25 executive order on immigration instructed the Department of Homeland Security to increase bed space for undocumented immigrants subject to removal.
“We’re not surprised, but we are deeply disappointed that the administration is not only lining the pockets of the private-prison industry but expanding detention,” said Bob Libal, the executive director for Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrant rights and private-prison watchdog group.
The new facility will add to the GEO Group’s heavy presence in Texas. The company’s website lists more than a dozen facilities it operates in the state. They range from smaller local jails used mainly by the U.S. Marshals Service to larger immigration-detention complexes near the border.
GEO Group was involved in a lengthy legal battle last year after Grassroots Leadership filed a lawsuit to prevent the company’s Karnes City facility from being licensed as a child-care facility by state officials. The center houses hundreds of women and children that were part of the surge of undocumented immigrants from Central America who began arriving to Texas in record numbers four years ago.
The child-care facility licensing has been necessary since 2015, when U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that immigrants held in Texas and elsewhere should be released because their detention violates the provisions of a 1997 settlement — the Flores v. Meese agreement — that requires undocumented juveniles be held in facilities that protect their health and safety.
A state district judge denied the state the ability to issue the licenses, but the facility continues to operate as a temporary processing center, Libal said. Read more about Trump greenlights a new immigrant-detention center in Texas
In a February 22 call with investors, the private prison corporation GEO Group openly boasted that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is boosting its bottom line and fueling its expansion.
One of the largest private prison companies in the world, GEO Group, stands accused of widespread human rights violations, including charges that the company forced tens of thousands of immigrants in ICE detention at the Aurora, Colorado Denver Contract Detention Facility to perform slave labor. GEO Group’s Karnes family detention center in Texas, where mothers are incarcerated with their children, has been the site of repeated hunger strikes over poor conditions and indefinite detention.
Speaking with investors (transcript is available here), David Donahue, the President of GEO Corrections and Detention, directly cited the Trump administration’s “deportation force” as a boon to business.
Speaking with investors, chairman and chief executive officer George Zoley gloated, “We’re very pleased with our strong fourth quarter and year end results and our outlook for 2017," adding: “It is gratifying to see GEO’s continued financial success.”
Zoley went on to directly cite Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders as a boon to business, proclaiming:
With respect to detention services, in support of border security, we would continue to be the largest provider of detention services to the three federal agencies — that is to ICE, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service. With this increased and expanded approach to border security, the first agency that will need additional capacity is ICE. Border Patrol will catch individuals and then send them to an ICE facility. Subsequently, there will be a need by the U.S. Marshals Service for those people that have committed criminal acts and need to be detained for adjudication. And further on down the line, BOP will need additional capacity as well for those people who’ve been sentenced and need to serve their time in one of the CAR facilities.
So it’s really an escalation of capacity need for all three federal agencies as a result of the president’s new executive orders redirecting the approach to border security for the three federal agencies.
The advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership blasted the company for profiting from Trump’s plans to implement mass deportations. "While immigrant communities are being terrorized by raids, the private prison industry is quietly celebrating a potential boom in business,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of the organization. “Prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America are preparing for an enormous expansion to detention under this administration. Mass deportations should make our country ashamed, not make private prison executives rich." Read more about Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda
Private prison companies just hit the jackpot.
While attention was focused Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s orders to start building the border wall and cut federal funding to sanctuary cities, another aspect of his decree went mostly overlooked: Trump effectively gave the Department of Homeland Security carte blanche to expand immigrant detention.
His executive order authorizes the department to “allocate all legally available resources” to “establish contracts to construct, operate, or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico.” That means paying private prison companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group to open new facilities to keep up with the Trump administration’s draconian “enforcement priorities” on immigration.
“It’s worse than we even imagined,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes private prisons. “It’s the policy manifestation of all the ugly bigotry that Trump spewed on the campaign trail.”
The Trump administration’s enforcement priorities, also outlined in Wednesday’s executive order, will likely ensnare hundreds of thousands of people, including asylum seekers who present themselves at the border, undocumented immigrants who have merely been accused of crimes but not found guilty, and others convicted of petty offenses like driving without a license. All of those people could end up being locked up indefinitely — and the current detention facilities are already at capacity.
A group of lawmakers, including Texas’ senators, have asked the Bureau of Prisons to put the brakes on a contract for 3,600 beds in private detention facilities that could result in closures of prisons in Texas.
They’re asking the Obama administration to hold off on granting the contract, which at one time was slated for more than 10,000 beds in seven states, including Texas. That number was reduced drastically this year after the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out its use of private prison operators.
The contract, which could be shared by several companies, would have been a renewal of existing agreements to operate prisons for the bureau. The reduced contract could result in the closure of some facilities.
The letter was hailed by private prison company GEO Group, which employs about 1,500 people in Texas through BOP contracts, but was criticized by an Austin-based advocacy group as the latest effort to delay the contract until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which has opposed private prisons, said the company is likely to lose its challenge. He wondered if the letter and the protest by GEO are part of a “stalling technique” in hopes that a Trump administration will award larger contracts. The Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons was based not just on the problems identified but a declining inmate population, Libal said.
“They’re trying to thwart the common-sense move that, if you don’t need prison beds, you don’t sign contracts with substandard prisons to continue to operate them,” he said. Read more about Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators