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 WarrenGabbard moves to New Hampshire ahead of primary LGBTQ advocates slam Buttigieg for past history with Salvation Army Saagar Enjeti unpacks why Kamala Harris's campaign didn't work 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 WydenTrump escalates fight over tax on tech giants Trump administration proposes tariffs on .4B in French goods Democratic congressman calls for study of effects of sex-trafficking law MORE (Ore.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates Saagar Enjeti unpacks why Kamala Harris's campaign didn't work MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandHarris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Warren hits Bloomberg, Steyer: They have 'been allowed to buy their way' into 2020 race Supreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade MORE (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerLGBTQ advocates slam Buttigieg for past history with Salvation Army Harris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Krystal Ball: What Harris's exit means for the other 2020 candidates MORE (N.J.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyAdvocates hopeful dueling privacy bills can bridge partisan divide Protecting the future of student data privacy: The time to act is now Key Senate Democrats unveil sweeping online privacy bill MORE (Mass.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSupreme Court poised to hear first major gun case in a decade Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Senate eyes sending stopgap spending bill back to House | Sondland delivers bombshell impeachment testimony | Pentagon deputy says he didn't try to block official's testimony Pentagon No. 2 denies trying to block official's impeachment testimony MORE (Hawaii), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate Democrats ask Pompeo to recuse himself from Ukraine matters Bureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows MORE (N.M.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre MORE (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGabbard moves to New Hampshire ahead of primary Sanders to join youth climate strikers in Iowa Saagar Enjeti unpacks why Kamala Harris's campaign didn't work MORE (Vt.).

They noted that CoreCivic and GEO made substantial political donations, including to President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: 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.