Boca's Private-Prison Giant GEO Group Gets More Money From ICE Than Any Other Company

The Trump era has been horrible for many of us, but few have suffered more than immigrants and those seeking asylum from oppressive regimes.

However, Trump's anti-immigrant crackdown has been fantastic for South Florida's massive private-prison corporation, Boca Raton's GEO Group.

According to a breakdown of current ICE contracts by the independent investigative website Sludge, no single company is making more money off the federal deportation machine than GEO. Per Sludge's data, GEO holds $471 million — nearly half of $1 billion — in federal ICE contracts.

Under Trump's administration last year, ICE dished out more money to federal contractors — $1.7 billion — than in any year since 2008, according to data from usaspending.gov. Sludge reports that spending in 2018 is poised to rocket past that 2017 figure.

After GEO, the Virginia-based MVM, a company that flies children to temporary shelters, is a distant second on the list with $115 million in contracted cash. Maxim Health Care, a Maryland company, is third on the list with $71 million in obligations, and the consulting firm Deloitte sits in fourth, with $58 million committed to the company. When it comes to getting direct cash from ICE, no entity currently comes close to GEO — not even GEO's biggest competitor, CoreCivi, the for-profit prison behemoth formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America.

Given the sheer scale of the work ICE farms out to GEO, that makes sense. GEO runs numerous immigration-detention centers for the feds, including the Aurora Detention Facility in Colorado, the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, the Adelanto Detention Facility outside Los Angeles, and South Florida's Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach.

GEO's stock plummeted at the end of 2016 when Barack Obama ordered the federal system to stop using private-prison facilities, since many Americans think it's immoral to turn a profit off incarcerating other human beings. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose former aides went on to become GEO lobbyists, almost immediately overturned that decision after Trump took over the White House.

GEO perhaps helped set the stage for that transaction by pouring money into a pro-Trump political-action committee despite there being a ban on political donations from federal contractors. A campaign integrity group has sued, alleging that GEO's contributions were illegal. GEO also held its 2017 leadership conference at the Trump National Doral golf course.

GEO is also a large donor to state and federal political candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Miami congresspeople including Rep. Carlos Curbelo. While Curbelo last month was videotaped saying he would continue to take private-prison donations, Florida's four major Democratic candidates for governor have signed pledges refusing private-prison money.

At the end of June, the Florida Democratic Party even passed a resolution banning state party committees from accepting private-prison funds — but New Times also obtained internal emails that show high-level party officials were worried about losing a funding stream that criminal-justice-reform advocates call morally bankrupt.

Protesters descended upon the Broward Transitional Center on June 28, and that day's #AbolishICE protest was far from the first act of civil disobedience at the facility. The center is designed to house "low-priority" detainees who've either committed small crimes like traffic infractions or committed no actual crimes at all. Infractions like overstaying a visa are considered civil issues, like traffic tickets.

But when two undocumented activists infiltrated the center in 2012, they claim they saw evidence of horrid mistreatment, including at least one case in which a detainee says he was raped with a Sharpie marker. After at least one detainee undertook a hunger strike at the center, federal lawmakers stepped in and demanded a review at the detention center. But the GEO-run center remains open.
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Jerry Iannelli is a staff writer for Miami New Times. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. He moved to South Florida in 2015.
Contact: Jerry Iannelli