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Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators

Stefani Reynolds

A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (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. 

{mosads}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 Wyden (Ore.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tom Udall (N.M.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.).

They noted that CoreCivic and GEO made substantial political donations, including to President Trump’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.

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren ICE Immigration Immigration detention Jeff Merkley Kirsten Gillibrand Mazie Hirono Migrant detention facilities Ron Wyden Tom Udall U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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