It is disheartening to open a newspaper or turn on the TV only to see misleading information and politically-driven insinuations about the services The GEO Group (GEO) provides to the federal government. I have been a proud employee at GEO for more than 20 years, and currently serve as the facility administrator of the Aurora ICE Processing Center, which was established in 1986 on a contract with ICE’s predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
While it makes for a popular talking point to suggest The GEO Group plays a role in public policy decisions, the truth is quite the opposite. GEO does not take positions on, nor advocate for or against, any immigration enforcement policies, which includes laws governing detention of noncitizens.
We understand that immigration is a highly contentious issue where there are strongly-held beliefs on all sides. But let me make something clear: GEO has never, nor does it ever plan to, operate or manage facilities that house unaccompanied minors or provide transportation or any other services for the purpose of separating minors from their parents.
For more than three decades, we have served as a partner to the public sector, fulfilling contracts with very clear and detailed mandates, requirements and comprehensive oversight. It is not my job to cast judgment or opinion on those entrusted to our care. Rather, it is my job to protect those entering the facility and ensure they are provided high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe, secure, and humane environments, and are treated with compassion, dignity and respect.
The long-standing public-private model for secure housing allows for the delivery of a high-standard of care, as well as flexibility in responding to fast-changing directives from elected officials and administrations. For example, in 2014, the Obama administration requested that our Karnes County Residential Center in Texas be reconstituted to exclusively house mothers together with their children as immigration increased along the southern border. Per the government’s request, GEO repurposed the facility within 90 days to meet the new needs of those in our care, while meeting both state and federal standards for family facilities.
The Karnes Center offers all residents of school age daily educational services through a certified charter school. Other features include state-of-the-art smart-boards for classroom instruction, a library, activities and games, multipurpose rooms for social activities, laundry facilities and food services catered to the residents’ local cuisine. Unlimited access to fruit, snacks, drinks and infant formula is provided at all times. Recreational options at the Karnes Center include an indoor gymnasium, artificial turf soccer field, covered pavilion playground and picnic areas. Each room is equipped with a bathroom and shower facilities, individual TVs and microwaves.
Charges of little accountability or oversight of our operations are flatly wrong. Our services comply with performance-based standards set by the federal government and adhere to guidelines set by leading third-party accreditation agencies. For example, the delivery of medical services must comply not only with contractual requirements and standards set by the government, but also guidelines set by one or more third-party accreditation entities including the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and the Joint Commission.
Additionally, our facilities are subject to unannounced audits by both federal agencies and independent, third-party organizations; there is dedicated ICE staff on-site at all times, and public records requests can be made directly to the government agency for whom we contract.
This accountability equally applies to GEO’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) services that provide case management and supervision solutions for individuals in immigration proceedings. Working with local Non-Governmental Organizations, these programs permit immigrant families to remain together outside of a facility, integrating technology solutions and case management that provides legal, translation, transportation resources, as well as referrals to community service that assist with shelter, food and health services, among others.
I, along with my colleagues and The GEO Group, work every day to treat those going through immigration proceedings with dignity and respect, and we will continue to provide, high-quality services that meet or exceed the strict standards set by the government.
Choate is GEO Group Facility Administrator for Aurora ICE Processing Center.