U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been under fire for opening three detention centers to hold Central American immigrant families who fled to the U.S. seeking asylum. Under pressure of a federal court order, ICE is exploring ways to release the mothers and children with alternatives to detention, while human rights activists are unhappy that the same for-profit prison company that locked up the families manages their cases after release, reports NPR. The immigrants have no idea that their odyssey through the asylum process is making tens of millions of dollars in profits for the GEO Group, which calls itself “the world leader in private correctional, detention management, and community residential re-entry services.” The company holds immigrants at 15 centers in six states; a facility in Karnes County, Tx., was opened for Central American moms and their kids. The annual contract is worth $26 million. ICE calls the facilities “family residential centers”; lawyers and human rights advocates call them family prisons.
A California federal judge ruled that such centers are not licensed to hold children, and ordered ICE to release the families “without unnecessary delay.” The federal court order and ICE’s compliance efforts led to a windfall for GEO’s non-prison subsidiary, GEO Care. Last year, GEO Care earned $330 million, a fifth of the corporation’s $1.7 billion revenue. This year, the government will pay GEO $56 million to manage ankle monitors for 10,000 immigrants, and to run telephone check-ins for 20,000 immigrants. The idea is to make sure released detainees show up for ICE check-ins and court appearances. ICE picked GEO Care to administer a new $11 million pilot project to do case management for released immigrants. “Every time there has been an expansion of a different part of the detention system, whether it’s actual detention or alternatives to detention, GEO has been right there ready to take advantage of it,” says Mary Small of Detention Watch Network.