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In the Public Interest’s weekly privatization report

1) National: As thousands across the country gather to protest the Trump’s administration’s “assembly-line mass criminalization of migrants” and detention of children and families, private, for-profit prison corporations are poised to cash in on the “zero tolerance” policy. “All of this has the corporations salivating,” writes In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler. “GEO Group and CoreCivic now stand more ready than ever to, as they describe it, ‘partner’ with the Trump administration and ‘understand and accommodate their changing needs.’ And they’re going to dodge a ton of taxes doing it.”

For more see In the Public Interest’s new report on how private prison corporations, private equity firms and banks are moving in to finance what could become a dramatic expansion of prison and detention facilities across the U.S. “From the moment after an undocumented immigrant is arrested, you have corporations that contract with federal agencies and provide everything from operating detention centers to providing ankle monitors … all the way to chartered flights if they’re deported,” Mohler told CNBC for its report on who’s making money from immigration enforcement.

2) National: The Urban Justice Center has just released a new resource, Immigration Detention: An American Business. It provides “an in-depth look at the tangled web of profit motives behind the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and the corporations that spent millions fostering increasingly extreme views on immigration among elected officials to guarantee its implementation. The resource also aggregates detailed information about the broader spectrum of corporations capitalizing on the separation and detention of families and children, from facility operators to telecom providers. It also includes eight distinct actions you can take to challenge immigration detention profiteers and links to additional resources to help you support organizations doing vital work on the ground.” This follows on the release of the Urban Justice Center’s comprehensive April report, The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players.

3) National: For more media coverage of corporate efforts to cash in on the Trump crackdown, see thisthisthisthisthis, and this.

4) National: The Trump administration filed papers on Friday asking U.S District Judge Dolly Gee to modify her order prohibiting migrant child detention beyond 20 days to clear the way for its family detention drive. These court proceedings will determine whether Trump’s family detention plans are legal, and will obviously affect the contracting picture for any expansion of for-profit family detention centers. Gee “will hear arguments July 27 on the executive order signed by President Donald Trump this past week ending his administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.” The ACLU’s Lee Gelernt “said the government has a constitutional obligation to release parents who don’t pose a flight risk or danger, and that parents can choose to release their children if they don’t want them to be in a family detention center.” Congressional Republicans have introduced a bill that would override the Flores Settlement and allow indefinite detention of immigrant families together during criminal and immigration court proceedings. [Here’s the text of the Flores settlement]

5) National: Capital & Main, in conjunction with Newsweek, takes an in-depth look at Intergovernmental Service Agreements, which in many cases undergird contracting with private, for-profit prison and immigration detention companies. “A Capital & Main investigation has found Emerald took in millions of government dollars as it skimped on essential expenses and damaged detainees, its own employees and, likely, taxpayers while ICE officials looked the other way. Like other for-profit prison companies, Emerald did business with ICE through secretive no-bid contracts using city governments as middlemen. Critics charge these contracts allow ICE to avoid legal responsibility—for deaths, injuries and sexual abuse that occur in detention—and play a role in the government’s see-no-evil approach to detention abuses.”

6) National: Almost overnight, the question of abolishing ICE has become a national political issue, though activists have been raising the demand for some time. The victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortiz over senior Democratic House leader Joe Crowley has fueled a deepening debate on what should happen to ICE, with prominent Democratic politicians taking positions on the issue. The question of corporate profiteering by ICE has featured in the demands for abolition. In addition to Ocasio-Cortiz, proponents of ICE abolition in one form or another include Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cynthia Nixon, and Florida Democratic House candidate Matt Haggman. California Senator Kamala Harris called on Democrats to “critically re-examine ICE” and even to “think about starting from scratch.” Ocasio-Cortiz also favors the abolition of private prisons.

Ideas on what should replace ICE are still being developed, with Ocasio-Cortiz reminding people that ICE did not always exist but is a relatively recent invention. “Our incumbents created that system,” she told Jeremy Scahill. “Everyone who voted for it is responsible. Period. And they need to be held accountable and if they’re not actively calling for the abolition of ICE, then I don’t want to hear it.” A fuller discussion of the possibilities for reform and abolition was offered by Domenic Powell in Jacobin on Friday, and included the contracting question. “ICE spends more than $2 billion annually on detention contracts with private prison corporations,” Powell writes. “That too, can be cut, but may also require eliminating the much-reviled ‘bed mandate,’ which requires ICE to maintain 34,000 detention beds on any given day. By shrinking the budget for detention, we can move progressively toward a world without it. Even if attempts to shrink the agency don’t succeed in the short term, it is worth drawing a line and demanding that congressional Democrats say which side they are on. As more Democrats come to our side, abolishing ICE will inch toward becoming a reality.”

But opposition to the idea of abolishing the agency is also being heard. Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) urged caution, saying “ICE does some functions that are very much needed. Reform ICE, yes. That’s what I think we should do.” A “Democratic official” told The Hill that the idea of abolition wouldn’t play well in the Red States, where Democratic candidates are in tough electoral fights. And Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) threw cold water on the idea yesterday. “Abolishing ICE will accomplish nothing unless we change the Trump policies,” he said.

7) National: Among the corporations that have lobbied ICE in the past two years are General Atomics, General Dynamics, Procter & Gamble, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Amazon, United Parcel Service, Vigilant Solutions, Viacom, and Target Lodging.

8) National/California: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) takes on the misnomer of “detention” versus “prison.” Standing outside CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, she said “Look at this place behind me, we imprison them. We imprison them. We put them behind barbed wires. I’ve walked through that. I am a career prosecutor, I have visited many prisons and jails. That is a prison. You walk through the halls and the doors clink shut and there are bars on the windows. They get time to have recreation for a certain number of hours a day in a 500 square-foot cell. These parents, they’re being…well, we were told, a United States Senator was told, ‘Oh, they get phone calls for free to call their children.’ But when I sit down with the parents, it is very clear that they are charged for those calls. Now let’s also be clear about what’s happening in this prison they call a detention facility. For when they work, when they work, and they are asked and they are charged with working, you know how much they are paid? One dollar a day. The phone calls cost 85 cents a minute.”

9) National: Reuters is reporting that the federal drive to expand immigration detention may fuel a scramble by states to close deals with for-profit prison companies. “With ICE potentially looking for more beds, states are likely feeling pressure to accelerate such contract decisions said Jamie Cuellar, portfolio manager for Buffalo Funds in Mission, Kansas. ‘It’s more and more demand that continues to get snapped up, so states will be forced to get off the sidelines and get capacity under contract before it goes elsewhere,’ he said.”

10) National: The Trump administration has named Ronald D. Vitiello, a senior Border Patrol official, to serve as acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Vitiello oversaw the selection of companies to build prototypes of Trump’s border wall. POGO has reported that “half of the six contractors that built border wall prototypes had questionable track records, including one contractor that the Army Corps of Engineers felt was too risky to do future business with, according to a review of public records, a previously unreported whistleblower lawsuit, and new documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the POGO. The past conduct of three contractors—Caddell Construction, W.G. Yates & Sons, and Fisher Sand & Gravel—should concern contracting officers and prompt stronger oversight in future contracts to ensure that these companies play by the rules.”

11) National: Reacting to last week’s landmark anti-union Janus Supreme Court decision, In the Public Interest Executive Director Donald Cohen says “contrary to right wing propaganda, public sector unions have for years used the contract bargaining process to solve real problems in cities, states, and school districts. They are one of the few institutions left in our society fighting for fairer, healthier, and better communities. Teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota, have bargained not only on pay and benefits, but also on the needs of their students, like smaller class sizes. In Oregon, the state’s largest unions won paid sick leave for most full-time workers statewide. (…) There’s no question, the billionaires, large corporations, and rightwing politicians know what they’re doing. This is yet another attack on working people, particularly black workers, who are 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector. It’s also the latest step in a decades-long assault on government that wields privatization, austerity, and deregulation to take power from those who work to pay their bills and put food on the table.”

A joint statement issued by leaders and members of AFSCME, AFT, NEA and SEIU says the decision “sends our economy in the wrong direction. But it is also a rallying point. We call on elected leaders and candidates to do everything in their power to make it easier to unite in unions and build more power for all working people.” [See other responses]

12) California: Clare Crawford of In the Public Interest says recent changes in multifamily zones in San Diego wipe out public input from regulating charter school expansion. “’You would be able to site a school of any size in these neighborhoods with virtually no notice.’ Unlike what mainstream public schools go through, which takes about four years and requires approvals at the state level, charters can simply follow the city’s process, she said.” In the Public Interest recently “released a ‘first-of-its-kind’ analysis of the cost of charter schools for school districts. It found that students in mainstream schools in three California districts bear the cost ‘of the unchecked expansion of privately managed charter schools.’ The annual cost of charter schools to San Diego Unified is $65.9 million, the report says.”

13) California: The student loan giant Navient is being sued by Attorney General Xavier Becerrafor allegedly cheating borrowers. “Becerra’s suit alleges that borrowers were steered toward repayment plans that exceeded their income levels, and that in some cases, Navient misrepresented how much borrowers owed. When forced to pay more than they owed, many borrowers then defaulted on their student loans.”

14) Florida: The Miami Herald tells us “Who’s holding immigrants in Florida? Private vendors, feds and county sheriffs, too.” They report that “Florida’s key role in the national detention system wasn’t publicly known until news broke in mid-June that more than 1,000 children were housed in a dorm-like former job training center in Homestead, including at least 70 kids who were taken from their families.”

15) Illinois: Looking at the continuing pain from Chicago’s ill-fated parking ‘public-private partnership,’ Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest says “we need to know more about these types of deals, and not just in Chicago. Decades of tax cuts in the name of austerity have shrunk infrastructure spending at all levels of American government. As roads, transit, schools, and water systems crumble nationwide, a burgeoning industry of private equity investors, construction giants, and global water companies are shopping ‘public-private partnerships,’ i.e., private financing, as a silver bullet.”

16) Missouri: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch blasts the process by which powerful interests are driving the privatization of Lambert International Airport, saying “the fix is in.” In an editorial, the paper says “St. Louisans might never know whether they’ve received an unvarnished assessment of privatization’s merits and drawbacks because so many players involved in this feasibility study are aligned on the pro-privatization side. Comptroller Darlene Green is the lone voice on the decision-making team who questions this route, noting that, under city management, the airport has had 31 straight months of passenger growth, improved credit ratings and has added international flights.”

But citizens are fighting back against privatization. “Alderwoman Cara Spencer says she is lining up co-sponsors for a board bill to require the public to weigh in before any private firm can lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport. And a group of concerned citizens calling themselves STL: Not for Sale announced this morning they are pursuing a parallel track, circulating petitions for an initiative to achieve the same result”

17) Mississippi: CoreCivic will soon hold up to 1,350 prisoners in its prison in Tallahatchie County on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service. “In a recent report by the investment bank SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, analysts said the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward migrants crossing the border will also prove profitable for private prison companies like CoreCivic. The subsequent rise in immigrant detainees could allow them to bypass the usual “cumbersome and lengthy public processes” that accompany contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Marketwatch reported June 25.

18) Montana: Frequent public tours are part of CoreCivic and its political supporters’ PR arsenal in the heated battle over whether the state should renew its contract for the facility. “It’s become a political hot potato, with the prison offering the cash-strapped state $30 million if it will renew the contract and the Democratic governor balking, with folks in his party, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, advocating to get out of the private prison business. ‘Shelby prison should be turned over to state control or shut down completely,’ the ACLU said in October. ‘This offer from CoreCivic illustrates perfectly that the private prison industry only serves to warehouse human beings and look after its own profit margins.’”

19) New Mexico: Several prominent Democrats “say they will make charitable donations in the amounts of campaign contributions they received from two private prison companies amid debate over the Trump administration’s child separation policy and other immigration-related issues. The Albuquerque Journal reports the companies are GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic, which operate immigrant detention centers and private correctional facilities across the country.”

20) Ohio: Local clergy and civic leaders held a vigil last Monday outside CoreCivic’s Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. “Last week, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and other law enforcement officials, raided the Fresh Mark meat processing plant in Salem, arresting 146 people. Sixty-six of the detainees have since been freed and are reunited with their families, but more than 80 others remain detained at the private prison. An ICE raid conducted earlier this month at a garden center in Sandusky led to the arrest of 114 migrant workers, some of who are incarcerated at the private prison.” Tim Williams, a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, said “By focusing on everyone instead of focusing on removing criminals, they are focusing on everyone, hard-working citizens of their community and that is wrong.” Members of the church “organized the vigil and said that their greater church has called for the abolition of ICE, claiming it no longer upholds its mission.”

21) Puerto Rico: Food & Water Watch warns against attempts by Wall Street financiers and government officials to privatize Puerto Rico’s water system. “Responsible, public control of the system is the best way to ensure that every person on the island has access to safe and affordable water and that PRASA operates in the service of the people, not in the service of profits,” says FWW’s executive director Wenonah Hauter. “With the privatization of Puerto Rico’s water authority, we expect Wall Street profiteers and corporate water operators will seek to extract wealth without addressing the long-standing issues with the commonwealth’s water system.”

22) National/Texas: After a determined public campaign, the Williamson County Commissioners Court voted 4-1 to end the intergovernmental service agreement with the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. CoreCivic has owned the facility since 1996. “The decision does not immediately close the facility, but rather gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement until January to renegotiate a possible agreement.  At least 35 mothers who have had their kids taken from them at the border are being held the facility, and some are at imminent risk of deportation.” One commissioner said, “While this vote today does not solve the larger issue of immigration, the future of the women detained there, or the closing of the facility, I hope these activists do not celebrate this vote, but redouble their efforts in changing immigration policy at the federal level.”

23) National: In a highly unusual move, “a majority of ICE’s top criminal investigation agents are asking Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to spin their division off from the agency.” [Letter]

24) New York: A fierce battle has broken between two New York City Council members over the best approach to regulate private, for profit waste management contractors. “Now Reynoso, chairman of the sanitation committee, is trying to squash any chance of the bill securing additional sponsors. In a Thursday afternoon email with the subject line ‘*WARNING* Don’t Sponsor Industry Led Bill,’ Reynoso made an impassioned plea to his fellow members to support his legislation over Cornegy’s. ‘I have worked tirelessly over the past four and a half years to develop a comprehensive plan for reform based on facts, not industry lobbying,’ Reynoso said in the email.”

25) Idaho: The GEO Group has signed a two-year contract with the Idaho Department of Correction for 670 out-of-state beds at the company’s Eagle Pass Detention Facility and Karnes Correctional Center in Texas.

26) International: Halifax Examiner columnist El Jones writes that “Nova Scotia should not be doing business with a company that profits from human rights violations. Synergy Inmate Phone Solutions makes money from the detention of asylum seekers, and stands to benefit still more with Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policies. History will not only judge the Trump regime, or the people running the facilities for toddlers, or the agents ripping children away from their parents. History will also judge those who were complicit. And in Nova Scotia, our province is complicit by profiting from a deal with a company invested in detaining asylum seekers.”

27) International/National: Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism subjects a lengthy New York Times exposé of private consulting company McKinsey’s pernicious role in a major government contracting scandal in South African to critical examination.

28) Revolving Door News: Food & Water Watch reports that “Robert Powelson is leaving FERC as one of the five commissioners to lead the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), the trade association for the private water industry.”

29) Think Tanks: Amidst a wave of anti-regulatory propaganda flowing from right wing think tanks and politicians, evidence shows that in fact more urgent regulatory measures need to be taken to protect the public. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has just published a report on the danger of lead in water at child care facilities. “Only seven states require child care facilities to test for lead in their water, and EPA’s voluntary ‘3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water’ guidance has significant gaps, including an outdated trigger for action of 20 parts per billion and a failure to prioritize lead service line replacement. Given the critical need for more investigation in this area, EDF conducted a pilot project to evaluate new approaches to testing and remediating lead in water in child care facilities.” EDF found “7 of 11 child care facilities had at least one drinking water fixture sample above our action level.” The report contains recommendations for child care facilities and the EPA. [Putting Children First: Tackling Lead in Water at Child Care Facilities]

Legislative Issues

1) Ohio: The General Assembly “sent two bills to the governor that attempt to clean up funding for the state’s online charter school system. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle believe this is an important step toward more transparency and accountability.” The measures are in response to the closing of ECOT, which was the state’s largest online charter school. Gov. Kasich’s office says the bills will be subjected to the usual review process.

 

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