Oversight Committee seeks for-profit immigration center contractor documents

Oversight Committee seeks for-profit immigration center contractor documents
© Greg Nash

The House Oversight Committee is seeking documents related to contracts awarded to for-profit contractors in relation to running migrant detention centers as it investigates reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the facilities.

The committee sent letters to three firms seeming to make massive profits under the Trump administration’s policies, as well as two federal departments, asking for contracts and all correspondence between the officials and firms.

Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Cher offers to pay legal fees for security guard fired for repeating racial slur Baltimore mayor looks to rename downtown courthouse after Cummings MORE (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinEx-Trump aide on Russia testifies for 10 hours as part of impeachment inquiry Oversight panel to subpoena Trump officials next week over deportation deferrals Democrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the panel's Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee, sent letters to CoreCivic, GEO Group Inc. and DC Capital Partners LLC, as well as to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

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In letters to ICE and HHS, the committee says the number of migrants detained in HHS custody has “increased substantially” under President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE. In the same years, the for-profit contractors have seen profits accelerate, the committee says.

HHS confirmed to The Hill that it has received the letter.

"All congressional inquiries are taken seriously by the department and we will respond as appropriate in a timely fashion," a department spokesperson said.

DC Capital Partners owns Caliburn International, whose subsidiary, Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), runs the nation's largest migrant children shelter, according to the committee.

Since the start of 2018, CHS received three HHS contracts totaling more than $545 million for a shelter in Homestead Fla., according to the Oversight Committee.

The Oversight Committee says CHS also received more than $71 million in HHS grants to operate other facilities housing migrant children. 

In an emailed statement Caliburn International said, “We welcome the inquiry as a chance to tell our story and dispel misapprehensions about the critical work we do taking care of the teenagers at the Homestead temporary emergency care shelter until they can be placed in a safe home during this unprecedented surge of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S."

GEO Group received $300 million in new ICE contracts in the fiscal year 2017, revenue the committee says is $100 million more than the prior year. GEO Group earned nearly $342 million in fiscal year 2018, according to the Oversight Committee. 

GEO Group CEO George Zoley told shareholders earnings in the first quarter in 2019 were the firm’s “best in our history,” according to a transcript found by the House committee

A spokesperson for GEO Group said the firm is in the process of reviewing the letter. 
 
"But for more than 30 years, GEO's processing centers have been subject to independent oversight, including full-time, on-site government monitors. We are committed to transparency, and providing the safest and most humane care possible for those in our 14 ICE processing centers is our top priority," the spokesperson said. 
 
GEO Group claims its facilities offer modern amenities, a bed for every individual, recreational activities and 24/7 medical care. The firm says its facilities have never been overcrowded nor housed unaccompanied minors. 

The Oversight Committee says CoreCivic received about $135 million in new ICE Contracts in fiscal year 2017, an increase of $36 million over the prior year. The firm earned nearly $141 million in 2018. CoreCivic told shareholders the 2019 financial results exceeded expectations, citing the increase in its involvement in the detention facility business, according to a transcript found by the committee

In a statement, CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said the firm is currently reviewing the committee’s letter. 

CoreCivic does not operate facilities on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and “does not and will not house unaccompanied minors” at its facilities, she said. 

“The most disappointing aspect of the politicized discussion currently happening around immigration is the people it ultimately hurts,” she said. “It hurts the American people because important policies are being discussed, made or avoided based on misinformation rather than an open and honest dialogue on the challenges at hand, and it hurts migrants because it limits the ability of our government to partner with the private sector to provide safe, humane housing and critical services while they receive the legal due process they're entitled to.”

The other firms and ICE did not immediately return a request for comment. 

--Updated 5:27 p.m.