Progressive rips DHS for tasking prison company with immigrant oversight

Progressive rips DHS for tasking prison company with immigrant oversight
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The head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is going after the Obama administration for a recent contract with a for-profit prison company tasked with overseeing illegal immigrant families.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) says the Homeland Security Department's (DHS) decision to have Geo Group, a global detention giant, run a newly launched program to manage immigration cases for families is "utterly unconscionable."

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In a letter to DHS Inspector General John Roth requesting an examination of the contract, Grijalva praised the department for launching a program aimed at finding alternatives to lock-down detention facilities for immigrant families. 

"[B]ut I am dismayed," he added, "that this contract was awarded to one of the same for-profit prison companies that has been detaining women and children in horrific conditions for financial gain."

"Given the numerous allegations of mistreatment in facilities run by private prison companies, it is inconceivable that the same entities will continue profiting off women and children seeking refuge in the United States," he wrote to Roth.

Unveiled last week, the DHS pilot program aims to shift illegal immigrant families from detention centers into less restrictive environments, where they'll be monitored by case workers charged with helping them find housing, secure transportation and comply with immigration law as their cases move through the system.

The agency has come under intense criticism for maintaining the detention centers since last summer, when the DHS expanded the facilities to accommodate a surge of immigrants — many of them families and unaccompanied children — arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence in Central America. 

Human rights activists and many Democrats contend the centers are both illegal and inhumane, creating prison-like conditions that risk physical and mental harm to the detainees.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has acknowledged failures in the system, vowing to improve conditions this year. But the agency has fought the notion that the facilities should be closed altogether, arguing that they're needed to discourage future migration and ensure the detainees comply with the law.

A federal judge in California disagreed, ordering the centers closed before the end of next month, a decision the Justice Department has appealed. 

The new pilot program appears designed to begin shifting immigrants out of detention centers without shuttering them altogether. 

In announcing the program last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the initiative will tap the expertise of local case workers "to ensure participants comply with immigration obligations while providing access to holistic community based services tailored to the individual families’ needs."

The program will serve up to 1,500 families, split between five chosen metropolitan areas around the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Miami and Chicago.

"ICE recognizes the expertise and experience of community-based immigration assistance organizations which have a long history of assisting recently arriving populations," the agency said in a release. 

Grijalva has his doubts. The Arizona Republican said Geo Group's track record is blemished and wondered why the administration would pick a prison corporation over experts more focused on case management under less restrictive conditions. 

“GEO Group’s rap sheet of violations is long and well documented," Grijalva said Wednesday in a statement. "It’s hard to fathom how anyone would think that the same company neglecting the needs of women and children inside its detention facilities would behave any differently to women and children outside of them."