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Daily Dispatch

December 24, 2019


ICE is bailing out private prison companies

Imagine for a moment that you live in a democracy, a place where public policy has some referent to public opinion and to organized interests other than the NRA. In such a place, one might expect that a highly controversial policy, say using private prison companies to incarcerate people - for a profit - could lead to reform whereby, said companies would no longer receive contracts. Now, imagine that these companies, under current contracts, have a track record of abuse. They are businesses and spending extra money on the provision of health services, for example, cuts into the bottom line. These companies are currently being sued for using the forced labor of people detained in their facilities at $1 a day, rather than hire cleaning crews at even the local minimum wage. Imagine that these companies have become so controversial that leading banks will no longer lend them money following years of protest by both stockholders and people in the streets. Two states have decided to eliminate the use of private contractors for detention. Most candidates for the presidency have endorsed this idea. Legislation has been introduced to ban new contracts with these companies at the national level.

In this imaginary democracy, this would probably spell the end for said companies profiting from the incarceration of immigrants - which is civil NOT criminal detention to begin with.

In the democracy you live in, however, the results of all of this are new contracts for extended periods of time which lock in these companies for the next two or three presidents - assuming we keep having elections - or 15 years, in any event.

From the New York Stock Exchange :

GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) gets two new contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for five company-owned facilities in California totaling 4,490 beds.

The contracts will have terms of 15 years, including two five-year options, effective Dec. 20, 2019.

On a combined basis, they're expected to generate more than $200M in annualized revenue for GEO and will support more than 1,200 full-time jobs.

GEO rises 0.1% in premarket trading.

The GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two giants of immigrant incarceration who hold, between them, at least half of all immigrants in custody, have a new plan to meet the controversies their practices have engendered. Longer contracts. And the U.S. government is going along, effectively bailing them out. 

You see, California was one of the two states that banned new contracts for private prisons. The ban goes into effect on January 1, 2020. GEO was well aware of the date. From the back in October:

A GEO Group spokeswoman said the company does not comment on government procurements. But in an earnings call Tuesday posted to the company’s website, Chief Executive George Zoley said he expects new long-term contracts in California to start in mid-December.

Zoley said that ICE’s solicitation “involves a rebid of existing contracts at our Adelanto and Mesa Verde ICE processing centers as well as other contractor-operated facilities in California. It also allows for other existing facilities to be proposed in those three areas of the state.”

In response to a question about how AB 32 will affect GEO’s operations, Zoley said that it restricts “any state or federal facilities to their contract terms effective January 1.... So if you have a contract that’s in place before the end of this year, it can go the full length of its contract term.”

Thus, the federal government helped the GEO Group evade new state regulations in California by issuing 15 year contract renewals before January 1 - which is frankly insane from the standpoint of accountability.

ICE is doing this in Texas as well. The Quixote Center (Houston office) signed on to letters opposing new contracts under the terms being offered by ICE for three facilities. From the :

The organizations point to the recent ICE notice of solicitation for three 10-year contracts for federal detention facilities, published on Nov. 21, that is "clearly" tailored to three existing Texas facilities: T. Don Hut­to, the South Texas Detention Com­plex in Pearsall, and the Houston Process­ing Center. In 2019, these three held almost 22% of the average daily population of detainees in the state. All three have records of mistreatment and abuse, including deaths and sexual assault. T. Don Hutto, for instance, has a long history of abuse including multiple sexual assaults by guards since 2010, as the Chronicle has reported, and forced-labor allegations that are currently the subject of litigation. The Houston facility has reported nine deaths since 2003, while the South Texas center is notorious for subjecting immigrants to solitary confinement. "We write with grave concern about both extending the operation of these facilities with long histories of abuse, and the dubious process by which ICE is seeking to acquire these contracts," the groups write.

Williamson County, where T Don Hutto is located, cancelled its contract with CoreCivic earlier this year - but ICE immediately stepped in to offer a temporary extension. The ten-year deals would cement these companies into the landscape here, even as people are mobilizing to shut them down; which, of course, is the point.

As I said, imagine you live in a democracy. 

USCIS does not want to process your application

“‘This is all very petty and can only be designed to slow down the asylum process, and maybe discourage applicants who do not have representation...seeing this petty bullshit is bad for our blood pressure.”’

This is Michael Smith of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley, California. The petty bullshit he is speaking of is that latest Trump administration maneuver to make asylum difficult to impossible to get. Remember - we always remind - that asylum is a perfectly legal process. Asylum seekers are not “illegal” immigrants, and under U.S. law, even if they enter the country without inspection at a port of entry, are entitled to request asylum. People who seek asylum in this country come from all over the world, and are often fleeing deadly circumstances. The outcome of their asylum application has life or death consequences.

Enter Trump. From :

One man came to America fleeing political persecution in Cuba, only to have his application for asylum rejected because his attorney had not listed a middle name – a middle name he does not have.

Another asylum-seeker from the Democratic Republic of the Congo had their application rejected, in part, for putting a dash (“–”) in the space to list other names they have gone by – even though they have never gone by any other name.

And a child from El Salvador, who entered the country alone, dutifully listed the names of their two siblings – only to have their application rejected because the form provided space for four names and the child left the two remaining spaces blank.

The entity that oversees asylum applications is U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This is not an enforcement agency - remember asylum is legal. And yet, under “acting” director Ken Cuccinelli, USCIS acts like an enforcement agency. It no longer provides services so much as look for reasons to deny them - and, in the process, deny the people impacted a legal means to stay in the country. 

The petty bullshit intensified weeks ago when USCIS made a minor change to instructions on their website, simply stating that every section of the form must be filled out.  However, as attorneys and their clients are finding out, simply putting in a dash or “N/A” is not sufficient.

For many the change is clearly a brick in Trump’s “invisible wall” – a slew of bureaucratic barriers designed to stymie immigration.

“There were always occasional rejections before,” said Elizabeth Keyes, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law, “but the volume in the past 4-6 weeks is something altogether new.”

“The Trump administration has turned bureaucratic travesties into a feature,” she said.

Tracie Klinke, an attorney in Marietta, Georgia, calls the development “frightening and ridiculous and awful”. Klinke has been filing asylum applications for a decade. “Ten years as a practicing attorney – dashes, blank spaces? They were fine,” she said.

And consequences:

Marina Andrei, a lawyer in Newport Beach, California, had an application rejected over a failure to write “none” in the field for “travel document” – even though she had already listed the clients’ passport numbers on the application, indicating these were the documents they had presented upon arrival, not a “travel document” issued by USCIS. That one was a particularly strong case, she said, involving a family of four.

“They should’ve been interviewed by now. They should’ve had an approval by now,” she said. Instead “they’re just waiting around, afraid to even go outside”.