• February 23, 2024

For-Profit ICE Detention Faces Resistance After Big Expansion Under Trump : NPR

Sulma Franco, organizer of Mujeres Luchadoras and Grassroots Leadership and LGBT activist from Guatemala, leads protesters on March 24 to the entrance of the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas, where the US immigration and customs authorities treaties imprisoning migrants complete women. Julia Robinson hide caption

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Julia Robinson

Sulma Franco, organizer of Mujeres Luchadoras and Grassroots Leadership and LGBT activist from Guatemala, leads protesters on March 24 to the entrance of the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas, where the US immigration and customs authorities treaties imprisoning migrants complete women.

Julia Robinson

A dozen Central Americans in T-shirts labeled Mujeres Luchadores – Fighting Women – marched through a small town in Texas last month to the gates of an imposing private internment camp where they were all incarcerated.

“Biden, listen to us! Turn off Hutto!” they sang.

They refer to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, the former state prison in Taylor – northeast of Austin – named after the founder of the private prison company that signed the contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“These companies benefit from our suffering,” says former Guatemalan inmate Sulma Franco into a megaphone. “We want all cages to be closed now!”

Sonia Mendares, right, is waiting for her 10-year-old daughter to be released from an ICE detention center in Laredo. Julia Robinson hide caption

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Julia Robinson

Sonia Mendares, right, is waiting for her 10-year-old daughter to be released from an ICE detention center in Laredo.

Julia Robinson

Demonstrations like this are part of a growing grassroots resistance to privately run immigration prisons across the country.

The Trump administration has dramatically expanded the detention net – often because of local objections – and private prison companies were popular. Under Trump, ICE held a record of 56,000 migrants, claiming they needed to be jailed or they would flee once they lost their immigration cases.

But the political winds have shifted. Today, privately owned immigration prisons are facing growing public opposition, state law is considering measures to close them, and the prison industry has fallen out of favor with the new Washington, DC administration

Protesters march outside the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas. Julia Robinson hide caption

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Julia Robinson

Protesters march outside the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas.

Julia Robinson

Private prisons leak

President Biden has ordered the Justice Department to remove private prisons holding federal offenders, instructed ICE to arrest fewer immigrants, and expressed an interest in alternatives to imprisoning immigrants.

Opponents of profitable incarceration believe that migrants who have not committed a crime and who have come to the US to seek asylum should not be detained while their cases are pending.

Critics also say that private operators prioritize profits over inmates’ welfare. The separation of families by former President Donald Trump, which resulted in mothers being locked up in facilities like Hutto, further inflamed opponents.

Protesters march outside the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas. Julia Robinson hide caption

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Julia Robinson

Protesters march outside the T. Don Hutto residential center in Taylor, Texas.

Julia Robinson

In the meantime, major banks have stopped lending to the two listed prison companies. CoreCivic and GEO Group. And last month, Wall Street further lowered its bond ratings, citing high debt settlements and hostile operating conditions under the new Biden administration.

To counter the bad public mood, the four largest prison societies, including GEO and CoreCivic, formed a trading group called Day 1 alliance.

“There was a lot of misinformation, and that’s why I really wouldn’t look at public opinion because there are so many falsehoods about the industry,” said Alexandra Wilkes, national spokeswoman for Allianz.

But Mark Fleming, assistant litigation director at the National Immigrant Justice Center, who works against the industry, says, “The private prison companies are certainly facing headwinds here. They are definitely increasingly unpopular with the public.”

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Under siege and largely secret: companies used to detain immigrants

Finding ways to keep doing business

Hutto, which opened in 2006, was concerned from the start. There was one successful ACLU lawsuit for inferior living conditions and later for sexual assault.

In Taylor, as in many places with private prisons, the place acts as an intermediary between ICE and the detention center, so that there is a forum for public complaints.

In Williamson County, where Taylor is based, immigrant lawyers urged the commissioners to terminate their contract with Hutto. And in 2018 they found their way when the commissioners voted to execute the contract.

But the celebration was only temporary. Last year, ICE and CoreCivic – the company that operates Hutto – signed a 10-year deal that bypasses Williamson County and the public opposition altogether. Hutto stayed open.

Paola Reyes-Cortes (left), Joshua (center) and Iris (right) immigrated to the United States from Honduras and were separated while in custody. Julia Robinson hide caption

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Paola Reyes-Cortes (left), Joshua (center) and Iris (right) immigrated to the United States from Honduras and were separated while in custody.

Julia Robinson

Prison companies “have found ways to keep doing business,” says Fleming. “They have proven over the years to be resourceful and resilient.”

As elected bodies in prison cities increasingly respond to angry citizens, ICE has increasingly relied on this workaround – the agency contracts directly with a prison operator and avoids messy public gatherings. ICE says there needs to be a place to hold deportable immigrants, about a third of whom are prosecuted.

The same thing happened to an even greater extent in California. Two weeks before a comprehensive state law that would expire for-profit incarceration is due to go into effect, ICE quietly went into effect last year signed long-term contracts with three companies to keep their facilities open.

ICE also tried this tactic in Ionia, Michigan, but now the outcome is uncertain.

In 2019, the agency announced its intention to open a 600-bed detention center in this town between Grand Rapids and Lansing. But the local opposition quickly formedThe governor spoke out against it, and even the All-GOP-Ionia County Board of Commissioners gave him a thumbs down.

“We took it as really good news that the proposal was abandoned so quickly,” said JR Martin of No Detention Centers in Michigan. “We learned that once that decision was made, ICE was working to do everything possible to bypass it and find another way to build a new facility in this area.”

ICE stepped out of the way of the naysayers and began directly signing a contract with a detention center to build a brand new 150,000 square meter prison in Ionia.

Fewer immigrants are jailed across the border, but ICE is still paying for empty beds

Big money as a boom in private immigration prisons

A lot has changed

But a lot has changed since then. The population of ICE prisoners has fallen from a high of more than 56,000 to around 15,000 today due to concerns about contamination with COVID-19 in living quarters.

Ron Vitiello, acting ICE director for 10 months in 2018 and 2019, said that following the release of detainees due to the pandemic and the fact that many migrants are still being turned back at the border due to a Trump-era health ordinance there is no longer a need to extend detention. Vitiello also noted that Democrats now control Congress.

“There is no need to increase the bed space. You do not need an additional cell for more adult immigrants who are expelled under Title 42,” he said. “Congress isn’t going to add money for the ICE detention – not that amount. I just don’t see it.”

The contract in Ionia has apparently gone cold. A spokesman for Immigration Centers of America, the company interested in the Ionia contract, tells NPR that ICE has stopped advancing all three liability contracts the company is pursuing – in Michigan, Illinois and Maryland.

ICE has confirmed this abandoned plans to build a new detention center near Chicago.

This comes at a time when hostility towards for-profit immigration prisons is mounting. California, Illinois, and Nevada have all taken steps to curtail privately owned prisons business. Now New Jersey, New Mexico, Washington State, and Maryland consider doing the same.

“The movement has increasingly recognized that closing immigration detention centers was an integral part of stopping the deportation machine,” said Silky Shah, executive director of the Detention Watch Network.

When asked about growing public and political opposition, an ICE spokesman replied in an email that “working together between local officials and the community as a whole is an indispensable part of promoting public safety”.

Regarding the deadlocked contracts to expand the detention network announced by Trump, the spokesman said: “ICE is constantly reviewing its detention requirements and exploring options that will give the agency the operational flexibility it needs to accommodate the full range of people who may be are in custody. ” Agency custody. “

Wilkes, spokeswoman for the industry alliance, says the conditions in contracted prisons are not as bad as those of inmates and that the facilities are cheaper than government-run prisons.

“I would also challenge activists to come up with a solution other than contractor-run facilities,” she says.

The industry depends on contracts with ICE that guarantees it pays for a minimum of approximately 29,000 beds in the system regardless of how many inmates they fill.

Jack

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