South Florida prison reform and immigrant rights activists are mounting a vigil this evening at the Boca Raton home of GEO Group CEO George Zoley, in support of hunger strikers at the global private prison company's Tacoma and Houston-area immigrant detention centers.
The protest has been hastily organized, protest leaders say, in response to the sudden spread last week of the hunger strike from the Washington State facility to the Texas location. The strike is aimed at GEO Group prison conditions and federal immigration policies.
The hunger strike started out strong early this month, with prisoner advocates claiming participation by some 1200 out of 1300 inmates at GEO Group's Tacoma facility. Their numbers have dwindled there but by last week the strike had spread to Texas.
As reported by Time, two immigration enforcement policies are at the center of the Tacoma hunger strike:
One is the so-called "bed mandate," an arcane provision embedded in the annual DHS spending bill. The other is mandatory detention, which requires suspected immigration violators to be held indefinitely while a deportation review is pending, often without bond.
Introduced in 2007, the bed mandate sets a target for the number of undocumented immigrants DHS must house to receive its annual appropriation. The current quota is about 34,000 people. Immigration analysts say it forces law enforcement to pursue and detain undocumented immigrants simply to meet quotas, stripping them of discretion as they carry out their jobs. As a result, facilities like Northwest Detention Center are crammed with detainees who have committed minor infractions, such as traffic violations. Their detention costs taxpayers about $160 per day, which quickly adds up: in the 2013 fiscal year, the U.S. shelled out more than $2 billion on immigration detention.
(GEO Group's lobbying on behalf of such measures includes a long history of hefty campaign finance contributions, including more than $100,000 to state, local and federal candidates so far in the 2014 cycle.)
According to the Texas Observer:
Texas detainees are decrying overcrowding and unjust treatment by guards, who they say are disrespectful and verbally abusive. They call for better food, affordable prices at the commissary and reasonable phone rates.
In a press release, organizers of the local vigil stated:
We will visually bring messages from hunger strikers within Geo Group owned detention centers, to the neighborhood entrance of CEO George Zoley. The vigil will be held on public property, but is unpermitted. If you have something to hold a votive or small candle in, bring it along, we'll have the candles!
Vigil at GEO Group CEO George Foley's home 5 pm - 7 pm, Monday, March 24 At the El Camino Real entrance to the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club More info, including car pools and meet-up location, here.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.