Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs

Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs
© Greg Nash

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on Friday formally requested a meeting with the CEOs of the two largest private detention center operators, as COVID-19 cases have spread among detainee and employee populations alike.

In a letter to CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger and GEO Group CEO George Zoley, CHC Chairman Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) and Rep. Juan VargasJuan C. VargasHouse passes political spending, climate change corporate disclosures bill Hispanic Caucus asks for Department of Labor meeting on COVID in meatpacking plants Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs MORE (D-Calif.) wrote that in the three months since President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE declared a health emergency, the number of COVID-19 positive cases in detention centers has increased "exponentially."

"Since both CoreCivic and GEO Group are ICE’s top operators of detention centers, we would like to request a virtual meeting with you and Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Members at your earliest availability," wrote Castro and Vargas.

ADVERTISEMENT

The CHC has previously unsuccessfully attempted to meet with Hininger and Zoley, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for CoreCivic, said the company is reviewing the letter.

"COVID-19 has created extraordinary challenges for every detention system in America – public and private. We have worked together closely with our government partners and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities," wrote Owen in an email to The Hill.

"Our facilities are fully transparent to our government partners and elected officials, and we have accommodated several onsite visits from members of Congress since the pandemic began," Owen continued.

Representatives for GEO Group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ADVERTISEMENT

Castro and Vargas were joined by 22 members of the CHC in signing the letter.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the law enforcement agency that runs immigrant detention centers, there are 22,579 foreign nationals in custody. Of those people, 11,828 have been tested for COVID-19, and 883 have tested positive and remain in custody.

Among ICE employees, 45 who work in detention centers have tested positive for COVID-19, as have 153 agency employees assigned elsewhere.

Two detainees have died from the disease while in custody so far.

"As many public health experts have already pointed out, congregate settings like detention conditions do not allow individuals to observe safe social distancing guidelines, which, especially during a global health pandemic, increase the risk of accelerating transmission of the virus among detainees and facility staff," wrote Castro and Vargas.

"Further, we are alarmed by reports that individuals held in detention with symptoms of COVID-19 have reported being denied necessary medical care; some have complained of being placed in solitary confinement; other have been ignored outright," the added.

While the death rate of detainees is relatively low, the positive testing rate is much higher than for the general population, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.

CoreCivic built and operates the South Texas Family Detention Center under contract with ICE, and GEO Group operates at least nine ICE processing centers throughout the country.

Castro and Vargas were joined in the letter by Democratic Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben GallegoHouse Democrats introduce bill restoring voting provision after SCOTUS ruling Behind China's grand façade lies deep insecurity Hispanic Democrats launch new voter rights initiative MORE (Ariz.), Nanette Diaz Barragán (Calif.), Adriano EspaillatAdriano de Jesus Espaillat CabralHouse at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate NYC snafu the latest flub from a broken elections agency The Memo: Harris, Ocasio-Cortez and the Democratic divide on immigration MORE (N.Y.), Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarLatina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Officers recount the horror of Jan. 6 Migrant children at military bases: What is Biden doing? MORE (Texas), Albio SiresAlbio B. SiresCountering China's influence in the Caribbean with a second Caribbean Basin Initiative We can't lose sight of Ortega's abuses in Nicaragua Hispanic Caucus requests meeting with private detention center CEOs MORE (N.J.), Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Ocasio-Cortez, Bush criticize lack of diversity among negotiators on latest infrastructure deal Fetterman slams Sinema over infrastructure: 'Democrats need to vote like Democrats' MORE (N.Y.), Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoBiden signs bill to designate the National Pulse Memorial in Orlando Puerto Rico's former governor stages a comeback Pulse nightclub to become a national memorial 5 years after deadly mass shooting MORE (Fla.), Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-Powell'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Stephanie Murphy won't run for Senate seat in Florida next year Hispanic Democrats slam four Republicans over Jan. 6 vote in new ads MORE (Fla.), Filemon VelaFilemon Bartolome VelaDemocrats confront difficult prospects for midterms The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's next act: Massive infrastructure plan with tax hikes These House lawmakers aren't seeking reelection in 2022 MORE (Texas), Grace NapolitanoGraciela (Grace) Flores NapolitanoA law hindering treatment for severe mental illness must be repealed Trump signs bill authorizing memorial to fallen journalists We can't ignore COVID-19's impact on youth mental health MORE (Calif.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Luis Correa (Calif.), Jesús García (Ill.), Jim CostaJames (Jim) Manuel CostaModerate Democrats call for 9/11-style panel to probe COVID-19 origins Biden waiving sanctions for Nord Stream 2 pipeline firm: report On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July MORE (Calif.), Jimmy GomezJimmy GomezDemocrats face daunting hurdles despite promising start Black Eyed Peas' Taboo to appear in tribal 'pandemic town hall' Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis MORE (Calif.), Linda Sánchez (Calif.), Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Latina lawmakers discuss efforts to increase representation MORE (Calif.), Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.), Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarBiden backs effort to include immigration in budget package Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony MORE (Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Sylvia GarciaSylvia GarciaDemocrats introduce equal pay legislation for US national team athletes Manchin meets with Texas lawmakers on voting rights Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm MORE (Texas) and Xóchitl Torres Small (N.M).