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Grijalva: New ICE contract with private prison corp. is 'unconscionable'

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Grijalva: New ICE contract with private prison corp. is 'unconscionable'

  • Rep. Grijalva discusses his tour of two Texas detention facilities at a press conference in Washington, D.C. in June.
    screenshot/YouTubeRep. Grijalva discusses his tour of two Texas detention facilities at a press conference in Washington, D.C. in June.

Citing concerns about the treatment of women and children in prisons runs by the GEO Group, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva called for an investigation into a recent decision to grant the company a contract to run new alternative detention programs.

In June, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said immigration authorities would turn three family detention facilities into temporary holding facilities by shifting detainees to alternative programs. 

This action is part of a DHS effort to satisfy a federal judge's order. U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee ruled in June, and then again in August, that the agency was ignoring a legal agreement regarding the treatment of children in immigration proceedings. 

Gee gave the agency until Oct. 23 to release hundreds of immigrant women and children who arrived in the United States as part of an influx of people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. 

While the number of unaccompanied and accompanied minors crossing into the United States has declined, nearly 36,000 unaccompanied minors and nearly 35,000 family groups were apprehended in fiscal 2015. 

As part of this effort, Enforcement and Removal Operations, which manages the nation's immigration detention system, gave GEO Care, LLC a grant to establish the Family Case Management Program, a pilot program designed to manage asylum and refugee cases. 

Grijalva called the decision "unconscionable," noting that facilities run by GEO Group and other private-prison corporations have been the subject of consistent criticism regarding the treatment of thousands of immigrant women and children in long-term detention.

A spokeswoman for ICE called the program "an innovative and cost-effective way to promote participation in the immigration process." The pilot project "uses case managers to ensure participants comply with immigration obligations," said ICE's Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe in an emailed response.

In a letter to Inspector General John Roth, Grijalva asked federal auditors to review what made GEO Group, "better suited to this role than a nonprofit organization?"

Grijalva, who has been critical of family detention for more than a year,  blasted the policy in June after visiting two of the for-profit detention centers in Texas along with other members of Congress. 

"GEO Group’s rap sheet of violations is long and well documented," Grijalva said. "It’s hard to fathom how anyone would think that the same company neglecting the needs of women and children inside its detention facilities would behave any differently to women and children outside of them."

"While the parent company of GEO Care is a company with significant detention experience, FCMP is not a detention program, it is rooted in community-based case management services," ICE's O'Keefe wrote. The company will partner with community-based organizations, she said.

Last Thursday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights echoed Grijlava's comments in a sharp critique of family detention, calling on DHS to immediately release the women and children held in those facilities. 

"We cannot afford to allow for human beings to become a racket for corporate interests to exploit," said Grijalva, urging the inspector general's office to "act quickly to ensure ICE’s new program was awarded appropriately and administered justly."

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