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 Warren2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Kamala Harris staffer mocks O'Reilly for saying Harris 'lost' his vote for president Kamala Harris announces presidential campaign 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 WydenCongress should elevate those trapped in the gap – support ELEVATE Act IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries IRS waiving penalty for some in first filing season under Trump's tax law MORE (Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi Harris2020 Dems seize on MLK Day for campaign messaging Kamala Harris staffer mocks O'Reilly for saying Harris 'lost' his vote for president Harris after announcing presidential run says her 'highest priority' is protecting Mueller probe MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandMedia reliability questioned over report Trump directed lies to Congress Gillibrand defends past stances on immigration: I would tell voters, 'look at my heart’ Identity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination MORE (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerJimmy Carter tells Booker: 'I hope you run for president' Identity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination 2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend MORE (N.J.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Overnight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (Mass.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHawaii state senator to announce bid for Gabbard's House seat in 2020: report AG pick Barr emphasizes independence from Trump Hirono says she can't trust Trump on shutdown talks: 'His word is not good' MORE (Hawaii), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSchumer wants answers from Trump on eminent domain at border Senate in last-minute talks to find deal to avert shutdown  House-passed stopgap measure in Senate limbo MORE (N.M.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dem on call for Nielsen investigation: I am 'sick and tired of this administration lying' Dem senator requests FBI investigate Nielsen for potential perjury Trump officials discussed ‘deterrent effect’ of prosecuting migrant parents: report MORE (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersIdentity politics and the race for the Democratic nomination 2020 Democrats barnstorm the country for MLK weekend Bill Maher defends Bernie Sanders campaign over sexual harassment allegations MORE (Vt.).

They noted that CoreCivic and GEO made substantial political donations, including to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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.