Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators

Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators
© Stefani Reynolds

A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument MORE (D-Mass.) sent out letters Friday to three private immigration detention center contractors, demanding information on their allegedly poor conditions.

The Democrats wrote that it is “unclear” whether CoreCivic, The GEO Group and The Nakamoto Group are each “serving as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”

CoreCivic and GEO operate detention facilities, while Nakamoto has a federal contract to inspect conditions in detention facilities. 

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The senators pointed to a September report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) that painted a stark picture of conditions in several ICE detention facilities.

Facilities were found to have old and moldy food, to lack adequate medical treatment and to present significant delays in getting detainees basic hygiene products, such as toilet paper.

In a letter to Jennifer Nakamoto, president of the Nakamoto Group, the senators outlined violations at Adelanto Detention Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in California operated by GEO and audited by Nakamoto. They said OIG inspectors found nooses made from bedsheets in 15 of 20 inspected cells.

“These reports on facility conditions are appalling and reveal serious problems at ICE — and with Nakamoto Group's inspections of those facilities,” they wrote.

The senators wrote that government auditors are nearly twice as likely to find violations as Nakamoto auditors, and that ICE employees told OIG that Nakamoto inspections are “very, very, very difficult to fail.”

The senators also focused on the treatment of immigration detainees, many of whom have not been charged with criminal behavior.

“The [DHS OIG] report also found that detainees were placed in solitary confinement or locked down in their cells without being told why, and for minor violations,” they wrote to GEO Group CEO George Zoley.

The letters come as Congress prepares for a lame-duck session where funding for DHS is expected to be a battle.

Warren was joined in the letters to the contractors by fellow Democratic Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Lobbying groups ask Congress for help on Trump tariffs MORE (Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Democrats seize Senate floor to protest gun inaction: 'Put up or shut up' At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR MORE (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity CNN announces details for LGBTQ town hall MORE (N.J.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight Kennedy to challenge Markey in Senate primary Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists MORE (Mass.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators introduce bill to block Trump 'public charge' rule Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator MORE (Hawaii), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallOvernight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback MORE (N.M.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDefense bill talks set to start amid wall fight DHS officials called lawmaker visit to migrant detention facility a 'Hill stunt' Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden lead shrinks, Sanders and Warren close gap: poll Biden allies: Warren is taking a bite out of his electability argument Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul MORE (Vt.).

They noted that CoreCivic and GEO made substantial political donations, including to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Pelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Trump to withdraw FEMA chief nominee: report MORE’s campaign and inaugural committee.

“Ultimately, CoreCivic's lobbying expenditures and donations have paid off,” wrote Warren to CoreCivic President and CEO Damon Hininger, using almost identical language in the letter to Zoley.

The senators asked CoreCivic and GEO to provide a list of facilities operated by the companies, inspection records, waivers granted by ICE on inmate safety regulations and any registered labor violations.

According to their letters, CoreCivic has received $217 million in federal contracts since 2017, while GEO has received $4 billion in contracts over the past decade, “including $560 million in the last two fiscal years.”

Nakamoto has received $55 million from ICE, and could potentially receive another $16 million, the Democrats' letters said.

Nakamoto was served with a laundry list of questions regarding its procedures, ICE supervision and regulations, inspection results to compare with OIG findings, government contracts, and an explanation of why the company's auditors “misrepresented detention conditions,” according to the OIG report.

Representatives for CoreCivic and GEO dismissed the allegations in the letters, particularly the suggestion that the companies' lobbying efforts and political donations are targeted at hardening the administration's immigration policies.

"Any impartial observer will see that this is more about politics than addressing the real and substantive challenges facing our immigration system," said Steve Owen, a spokesman for CoreCivic.

"CoreCivic did not make contributions to any presidential candidate or campaign during the last U.S. presidential election cycle. Our contribution to the inauguration events is consistent with our past practice of civic participation in and support for the inauguration process, including contributions to inauguration activities that took place under the previous administration," added Owen.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for GEO, said the company "look[s] forward to addressing the many misconceptions and misrepresentations contained in [the letter]."

"While there has been a deliberate attempt to mischaracterize our role as a service provider to the federal government, our company has in fact never managed any facilities that house unaccompanied minors nor have we ever played a role in any policies related to the separation of families," added Paez.

Updated: 7:37 p.m.