December 9, 2019
Immigration enforcement costs a lot of money. What this also means is that immigration enforcement is a major source of profit for private companies that receive contracts for everything from deportation flights to tube socks, ankle chains to toothpaste. Literally thousands of companies receive ICE contracts. The largest companies are well known, especially, GEO Group and CoreCivic. Between them, they manage facilities where nearly three-fourths of all immigrants in ICE custody are incarcerated. Less known, however, are all of the companies that swirl around Federal contracts and sub-contractual arrangements like vultures on a country road in Texas.
In the news this week is one such company, McKinsey and Company. McKinsey was brought on by the Obama administration to streamline operations at ICE for cost effectiveness and efficiency. Those buzzwords sound great on proposals, until you realize that cost cutting impacts the care of human beings in custody - who have no say at all in the conditions they are held in (there is no market here for optimal detention facilities). It is one thing to know that cost cutting for ICE means fewer or less quality services for people. Now imagine hiring a company and paying it tens of millions of dollars, to tell you how to cut food budgets and how to optimally deny due process in order to reduce detention costs. Now imagine the company doing this actually got to ghost write its own contract renewal. Welcome to the D.C. swamp that Trump never drained (he actually simply dredged it).
Thanks to an investigative report by Propublica, co-published with the New York Times, McKinsey’s practices, and ICE administrators’ complicity, are now before the public eye and oversight committee members. From the report:
Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers.
The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully.
ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration. But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations — activities whose success could be measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies affected thousands of human beings.
While ICE staff were worried, the folks in charge, appointed by Trump, defended the company and the consulting contract. The company itself says that it was simply providing a service, for a fee, and that it did not change its focus to accommodate Trump’s policy shifts. Indeed, the company claims that it does not “do policy” at all, it is just advising - advising how to save money by feeding people less, providing less healthcare, less oversight, and shorter detention times by ramping up deportation proceedings. All of which reminds me of Hannah Arrendt’s use of the phrase the “banality of evil” in reference to the pen pushers that enabled another fascist regime. Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But with actual fascists in this administration breaking the law daily in service to nationalist sentiments it seems to fit.
Private border wall construction continues despite everybody telling them to stop
So, you may have heard of the group “We Build The Wall.” This is a “non-profit” that is raising money to build border barriers along the U.S./Mexico Border. Currently the group is financing a 3.5 mile section of wall in Hidalgo County, Texas on private land. The land that the wall is being built on adjoins the National Butterfly Center, which has sued. Last week a judge ordered construction to stop:
The injunction, issued on Tuesday by a state judge, was granted citing potential “imminent and irreparable damage” to the National Butterfly Center, a popular 100-acre riverfront nature reserve adjacent to the Neuhaus property. The wall could act as a dam and redirect floodwater and debris to the sanctuary, destroying an ecosystem which sustains hundreds of native butterfly species and birds, the center said.
The construction has not stopped. Last week the Federal government also stepped up:
And, on 5 December, the federal government launched separate legal action to stop the construction, on the grounds that it violated binational treaty obligations with Mexico. A temporary injunction was granted by the US district judge Randy Crane.
That federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IWBC), states that required hydraulic studies proving that the wall would not worsen flooding on the river had not been completed, and scant detail about the planned work had been submitted.
As of Friday last week, construction was still going on. Amidst the controversy, WBTW was removed from the lawsuit. The group claims that it was simply offering financing and was not responsible for that actual building of the wall. Which is fine, except that the group has raised $25 million from people promising to build walls. So, WBTW is maybe corrupt, or is opportunistically using a political wedge issue to raise funds. They just might be trying to do their version of good and is misunderstood. Maybe. But the wall is getting built, so who? To answer this we have to go back to the much-deeper-since-Trump-moved-in-swamp of D.C. contracting:
Thursday’s federal injunction prevents Neuhaus and Sons, the landowners, Fisher Industries and its parent company, Fisher Sand and Gravel, from excavating and clearing more land, or constructing any permanent structures until the IBWC determines whether it could cause flooding or redirect the water flow in violation of the 1970 binational treaty.
The North Dakota-based Fisher companies are owned by Tommy Fisher, who has made regular appearances on Trump’s favorite TV channel, Fox News, to boast about how he could build the wall, faster, better and cheaper than anyone else.
Earlier this week, Fisher Sand and Gravel was awarded a $400m Pentagon contract to build 31 miles of wall in Arizona – despite a history of environmental and tax violations.
Yes, you can’t make this up. A company that seems to be violating state and federal injunctions to build a privately funded wall along our border with Mexico is getting $400 million to build a section of Trump’s publicly funded wall, mostly because the company’s owner appears on Fox News a lot to speak positively about Trump’s desire to build a wall…
Remember all of this as the administration asks for more enforcement funds this budget cycle, and be sure to tell your representative to let the administration know that answer is “no thank you!”