“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

Supreme Court Rules Against GEO Group and CoreCivic Secrecy

Shadowproof reported on October 11 that the Supreme Court ruled to require transparency and accountability of private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). The two companies filed a petition to prevent the public release of government documents about their immigration detention facilities. The companies sought to prevent the government from releasing information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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In July 2016, a federal district court ruled that the government must release its contracts with private prison corporations. The two largest corporations, GEO Group and CoreCivic, filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that dismissed their petition. When GEO petitioned the Supreme Court for a full review of the case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of transparency.

This ruling comes during a time of expanding detention facilities in Texas and nationwide, while advocates call for greater oversight and accountability of privately-run detention facilities. “This victory is especially important as we face a presidential administration committed to mass privatization, as well as mass detention and deportation,” said Mary Small, policy director of Detention Watch Network.

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1,000-Bed Private Detention Facility Proposed for South Texas

On October 13, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is soliciting proposals for a new privately run detention center to operate in South Texas, the eighth of its kind along Interstate-35. The proposal calls for a location between San Antonio and Laredo to house 1,000 adult male and female detainees.

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“This would be yet another for-profit detention center in South Texas along the I-35 corridor, which has become detention alley,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership.

The American-Statesman reported that the Trump Administration has promised expansion of the detention system, supporting the profit margins of GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA). The expansion of detention forecasts a continued focus on interior enforcement and arrests, given that border crossings have declined since President Trump’s election. ICE has been criticized for actions of interior enforcement such as the raids in Austin in February “because more than half of the 53 immigrants arrested had no criminal history,” reported the American-Statesman.

“What Trump promised was the very high deportation numbers, and the way you get that is through the detention and deportation of asylum seekers” at the border, Libal said, “but if that number remains constant or goes down, you have to find new populations to deport” likely through ICE raids.

County Judge Joel Rodriguez said La Salle County would not participate in housing a detention facility due to the risks involved. The La Salle County sheriff’s office now operates a detention center in Encinal, Texas, after the private company Emerald Corrections abandoned the facility to the county in 2014.

As immigration cases pile up in a backlog of trials, deportations have slowed and detention centers remain in demand. “The combination of more arrests and fewer deportations could mean an increase in the populations of detention centers,” the article reported.

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GEO Group Meets at Trump’s Resort, Lobbying Appears to Pay Off With New Immigration Detention Contract

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On October 25, the Washington Post reported that private prison corporation GEO Group had moved its annual retreat to the 800-acre Trump National Doral golf resort. The company’s decision to host its retreat on a Trump property followed a year of increased lobbying and donations to the Trump campaign.

According to the Post, GEO Group’s spent $3 million last year in political lobbying and donations. “During last year’s election, a company subsidiary gave $225,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC. GEO gave an additional $250,000 to the president’s inaugural committee,” the article said. The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint earlier this year on the questionable legality of GEO Group donating to political campaigns as a government contractor.

The increase in lobbying and donation efforts has paid off for GEO Group: “In April, [GEO] won the Trump administration’s first immigration-detention contract, a 10-year deal first proposed during President Barack Obama’s term to build and run a 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, Tex.”

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement-contracted facility in Conroe will detain 1,000 more individuals in the same town as Joe Corley Detention Center with a well-documented history of rights abuses, including the recent story on pregnant survivors of sexual assault denied proper medical care. The new Conroe facility is expected to generate $44 million in profit for GEO Group annually.

While the Obama administration announced it would end contracts between the Federal Bureau of Prisons and private prison corporations, GEO Group faced losing its contracts with facilities like Big Spring complex in Texas. The Trump administration reversed this decision, leading to the renewal of the Big Spring contract “where GEO has said it expects about $664 million in combined revenue over a 10-year term.” The lobbying efforts of GEO Group have attracted criticism from press and watchdogs, such as Texans for Public Justice.

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Pregnant Women Seeking Asylum Detained, Women Miscarried in ICE Facilities

An article by The Nation (October 12, 2017) investigates the stories of asylum seekers detained while pregnant by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Nation reports that women have been denied medical care, leading to health complications including miscarriages.

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In September, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Women’s Refugee Commission filed a complaint that ICE has detained pregnant women against its own policy. In August 2016, the acting director of the agency Thomas Homan issued a memorandum stating that “pregnant women will generally not be detained” except under “extraordinary circumstances or the requirement of mandatory detention.” Despite this policy, the complaint filed by the ACLU and Women’s Refugee Commission cites 292 pregnant women were detained in the first four months of 2017, a notable 35 percent increase from the same period last year.

The article details the case of Jennye Pagoada López, who states she was denied medical care during detention and suffered a miscarriage after six days. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to respond to the complaint filed on behalf Pagoada and nine other women, six of whom were detained in privately run detention facilities in Texas.

The filed complaint includes the testimonies of five women who were detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) in Dilley, Texas, a family detention center operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America or CCA), and one woman detained at Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, Texas operated by GEO Group.

Ana, a 28-year-old woman from Honduras, wrote when she was in STFRC:

It is very difficult for me to be detained here with my son while I am pregnant. It is hard for me to get around because I am not feeling well and my son is too heavy for me to carry. I feel that I need to be living where my family can assist me. I am very concerned about the health of my baby because there are a lot of people here and many viruses, including the flu and diarrhea. Being detained and preparing for a credible fear [interview] has also been very stressful for me, which I feel is dangerous for my baby. In order to prepare for my credible fear interview with a CARA [the pro bono legal service organization at STRFC] legal assistant, I have had to discuss my history of sexual abuse and domestic violence in detail.

Katy Murdza of the CARA Pro Bono Project has worked at the Dilley family detention center for four months. According to her interview with The Nation, until recently most pregnant women were released from the border to live with family or friends before appearing before an immigration judge at a later date. The article details numerous stresses that pregnant women in detention face, as women are “fleeing torture, abuse, or rape (and in some cases learn in detention that their rape resulted in pregnancy); some are trying to care for their children who are also struggling with detention and recent trauma; some have miscarried in the past because of stress or depression, and now fear a repeat due to their current circumstances; and there is little rest, since detainees are sharing rooms with so many people, many of whom are sick.”

The Nation reports that according to an ICE spokesperson, the August 2016 memorandum remains current policy, meaning that pregnant women will not be detained barring “extraordinary circumstances.” Given changes in enforcement priorities under the Trump Administration, however, advocates see that pregnant women remain unprotected according to current practice.

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