7.25.2018
By Camila Pelsinger
Private prisons win big under Trump's 'Zero Tolerance' immigration policy

On April 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance policy” toward undocumented immigration, ordering federal attorneys to prosecute all adult migrants entering the country at the southern border without inspection.

President Donald Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy led to the separation of over 3,000 undocumented children from their parents. National outcry was swift, with elected officials from both political parties condemning family separation. Under pressure, Trump signed Executive Order 13841 purporting to end family separation in favor of whole family imprisonment.

Who profits from this human rights disaster? Here are some of the private companies making millions from family detention.

Private prison tycoons: GEO Group and CoreCivic

The 714,000 person backlog in immigration courts and overcrowding in government detention centers means multi million dollar contracts for private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic, both significant Trump campaign donors. GEO Group alone received $560 million in new federal contracts over the past two fiscal years, while CoreCivic received $225 million in ICE contracts since 2017.

A Trump administration spokesperson confirms Trump intends to allocate $2.8 billion in the 2019 budget to grow federal immigration detention capacity by 30%, or over 12,000 new cages. Despite an Obama era call to end the use of private prisons for rampant human rights abuses, the Trump administration has proactively involved private prisons in the federal immigration process.

A damning 2016 report released by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that private prisons had a 28% higher rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults and over twice as many weapon confiscations as federal prisons of similar size. Since Trump’s inauguration, multiple private prison companies have faced human trafficking and forced labor lawsuits related to their treatment of detained immigrants. Human Rights Watch recently reported that in the 2017 fiscal year alone, there were 12 ICE in-custody reported deaths.

Despite these abuses, both companies’ stocks have more than doubled following Trump’s election. This is due in part to the Trump Administration’s favorable outlook on building new detention centers and prisons, but also to both companies’ recent conversions to Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which are exempt from paying any federal corporate income taxes.This IRS loophole saved GEO Group $41.5 million in federal tax breaks in 2016 alone.

Compass Geo Vs  Core Civic Stock
Southwest Key Programs

Since 2017, the federal government spent $1.7 billion on contractors to hold detained minors across various facilities and makeshift detention centers. No private company plays as central a role in family separation than Southwest Key Programs, a Texas-based nonprofit that has already received over $504 million in contracts in 2018, nearly double from last year’s $285 million. Southwest Key Programs CEO Juan Sanchez has seen his salary double as well, from $770,000 in 2016 to $1.48 million in 2017.

Casa Padre, a Brownsville, Texas facility built from a converted Walmart currently holds over 1,400 children. According to the Dallas Morning News, Texas regulators found more than 150 violations at over a dozen shelters run by Southwest Key Programs in the past two years, with offenses ranging from rotten food and insufficient supervision to lack of timely medical care and giving children medication to which they were allergic.

Family services nonprofits simply cannot grow fast enough to accommodate the egregious amount of children entering federal facilities. Recent reports from the Center For Investigative Reporting indicate that CIA defense contractor MVM has been housing migrant children in a vacant office building in Phoenix, Arizona despite being contracted for transportation services and not having a childcare license.

Compass South West Key Partners Website Screenshot

Southwest Key Programs Website

Action by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

In June, Robert F. Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy visited the immigration hub of McAllen, Texas to demand justice for children and families separated by Trump’s cruel zero tolerance policy. In partnership with LUPE, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and Neta, we launched the Break Bread, Not Families chain fast, which has raised nearly $40,000 to support families seeking reunification.

Immediately following her visit, Kerry addressed 150 institutional investors and asset managers at the 9th Annual RFKennedy Compass Investor Conference, sharing disturbing accounts of her experiences observing federal immigration court proceedings. Kerry called on the audience to reflect on their ability to marshal monetary resources into social change through ESG-investing practices, while inviting each of them to join the Break Bread Not Families fast  alongside leaders like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Cory Booker, and actors like Westworld’s Evan Rachel Wood and Julia Roberts. You can learn more about how to support our work on the southern border by visiting the Break Bread Not Families website.

Finally, we challenge investors with shares of CoreCivic and GEO Group to consider the harmful implications of their investments on human rights by taking action to move their assets to firms that can provide long-term investment returns while also creating a positive impact on society. We must take a stand against these injustices no matter the cost. Join us as we right these wrongs!

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