At the southern border of the United States, families enter an Immigration Processing Center in McAllen Texas. However, they may not leave together. Instead, with the current zero-tolerance policies under the Trump Administration, children may be taken from parents and left to wait alone while their parents are taken to detention centers, where they face prosecution.
Children and parents alike are suffering. But, who is benefitting? For one, the GEO Group, which operates numerous private prisons, and has contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house immigrants.
When adults are arrested for entering the country illegally, a misdemeanor, they may face fines or jail time but are more typically simply sent back home. Harsher penalties may be imposed if an immigrant already removed from the U.S. is caught entering improperly again.
Trump has referred to this standard as ‘catch-and-release,’ and while he has repeatedly denied it, his administration has implemented a policy of zero tolerance, by which every individual caught crossing the border without documentation faces prosecution. This means that many families who would, instead, have been sent back across the border, or permitted to apply for asylum (which can legally be done anytime within a year of arrival in the country), are being split up.
Policies forbid holding children at the processing center for more than 72 hours, but according to The Cut, DHHS backlogs are causing the children to be left in limbo for times exceeding that allowable limit, and without a parent. Here, the children, some infants, are housed in cages — or, as some Trump surrogates have insisted, temporary rooms made of chain-link fence — and sleep on mattresses on a concrete floor with foil blankets.
A CBS news correspondent shared video on Twitter, emphasizing that press was not allowed to record during a visit and that this video was what the government was releasing and allowing the public to see.
BREAKING: Border Patrol @CBP just gave us this video of the detention facility we toured yesterday in McAllen, Texas. We weren't allowed to bring in cameras, or interview anyone. To be clear: this is government handout video. pic.twitter.com/Zjy80qIZFZ
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) June 18, 2018
While their children sit in cages awaiting DHHS, parents are transported to detention facilities. Many will end up in facilities operated by GEO Group. In fact, Freedom For Immigrants cites stats showing GEO Group receives more taxpayer funding for housing immigrants than any other ICE contractor. The group collected $184 million in the fiscal year 2017. GEO Group also boasts detention centers — or “residential facilities” to house children, complete with playgrounds and schoolrooms.
A bus used for transporting infants and small children to and from one of these facilities, went viral earlier this year, horrifying viewers who had never imagined a prison bus with car seats. Again, this isn’t new — the bus was actually depicted in a press release from the private prison company in 2016. What’s new is the accelerated rate of family separation, to such a degree that a makeshift tent city has been built to house children as family facilities overflow.
GEO Group was reported in 2017 to be a driving force behind a proposed law that would allow detention centers to be licensed as child care facilities, allowing them to keep children beyond the federally mandated 20 days maximum, further keeping their facilities full and profitable. Newsweek reported at the time that only 100 beds of over 800 in the Karnes Residential Center were then occupied.
NPR warned of this disturbing movement from the company in November, noting that a GEO Group executive had boasted of expected revenue boosts with Trump’s promised crackdowns on immigration. This followed a series of accusations of safety failures on the part of private prisons, which had led Obama to begin the process of phasing out the use of such facilities. Under Trump, they are promised new growth.
How much did it cost the GEO Group to reap such rewards? According to the Newsweek article linked above, a subsidiary of the company made two separate donations to a Trump PAC, the first in the amount of $100k, and the second, a week before the election, for another $125k, as well as hundreds of thousands more to PACs supporting Republicans for Congress. NPR also reports another $350k donation to Trump’s inauguration events. Open Secrets records over $250k to individual Republican candidates. (Democrats aren’t totally off the hook here — another $35k went to candidates running as Dems.)
If you’re keeping count, that’s approaching a million dollars in political donations, from a company that, as a result of conservative politics, is reaping the benefits in the amount of nearly $184 million per year. That windfall will only increase as they house more detainees. Meanwhile, there are toddlers sitting on a concrete floor in a metal cage, wondering if they’ll ever see their parents again.