Private Immigrant Detention Firm Gave $45K to Trump Fundraising Group

The GEO Group operates more than five dozen facilities nationwide

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has previously expressed support for private prisons. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has previously expressed support for private prisons. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 25, 2016 at 12:10pm

The political arm of one of the country’s leading operators of federally contracted immigrant detention facilities donated $45,000 last month to a joint fundraising committee supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, according to a recent Federal Election Commission filing.

The political action committee representing The GEO Group, Inc., made the donation on July 27 to the Trump Victory fund, a joint committee also supporting the Republican National Committee and 11 state parties. Donors to GEO’s PAC are almost entirely employees of the Boca Raton, Florida-based company.

The GEO Group contracts with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Justice Department, and foreign, state and local governments to operate detention and correctional facilities around the country. In 2015, it oversaw 64 facilities comprising 75,145 beds, according to an annual report.

Pablo Paez, the GEO Group’s vice president for corporate relations, declined to comment specifically on the donation, citing company policy.

“Our company’s political activities are aimed at promoting the benefits of public-private partnerships in the provision of correctional and detention management services as well as offender rehabilitation and community reentry programs at both the federal level and in state and local jurisdictions across the country,” Paez said in an email.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

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The donation came weeks before the Justice Department said it would phase out its practice of hiring private prison companies — the GEO Group among them — to operate 13 correctional facilities. The group’s stock price plunged following the announcement even though ICE, the group’s biggest customer, indicated it would continue its private detention contracts.

A lucrative industry

Nearly a fifth of the company’s business — the largest share — comes from contracts with ICE, according to its 2015 annual report. The company reported 10 percent growth, including new deals with ICE, and $1.84 billion in total revenue last year.

“For many years now, the private prison industry has recognized that immigration enforcement and detention is an incredibly lucrative industry for them,” said Greg Chen, advocacy director at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The company declined to say whether the donation is a result of Trump’s support for what critics say are harsh immigration enforcement policies. The GOP nominee has not weighed in on private contracts for immigrant detention, but told MSNBC in March that he supports private prisons generally.

“I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons,” he said. “It seems to work a lot better.”

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Trump’s Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has said she will end the federal government’s use of private prisons. (Last year, Vice News reported that a pro-Clinton super PAC received around $13,000 from firms connected with the GEO Group.)

“[Trump has] made it clear he plans to run a much more aggressive immigration policy that focuses on deportation and law enforcement,” Chen said. “It makes a great deal of sense that the private prison industry would want to support the candidate that wants to detain and deport more people.”

Contributions to Congress

The company’s political action committee has donated to both Republicans and Democrats, FEC records show.

Previously, the group supported the presidential candidacy of Sen. Marco Rubio, donating at least $5,000 that has since been re-designated to the Florida Republican’s Senate re-election effort, according to the FEC. Last month, the group donated an additional $9,750 to his campaign.

The group has also donated to House and Senate Republicans who oversee ICE, the U.S. Border Patrol and other immigration authorities. Those include the chairmen of both homeland security committees, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, as well as House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia and Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who chairs the Judiciary immigration subcommittee.

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Congressional appropriators who set funding levels for ICE — including how much should be spent on immigrant detention — also received donations from The GEO Group. North Carolina Sen. John Hoeven, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. John Carter of Texas, his fellow Republican House counterpart, both received $2,500 in 2015.

“It’s certainly in their interest to lobby not only Congress but also the executive branch to make sure private prisons are maintained and the contracts are maintained,” Chen said.

The number of facilities the company oversees for ICE fluctuates.  

In 2013, the company operated seven facilities with more than 7,000 beds between them, according to a study by the National Immigration Forum, a center-right advocacy group. Last year, the company signed deals with ICE to maintain oversight of a 700-bed facility in Florida and a 1,575-bed facility in Washington.

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It also completed expansions at two ICE facilities, including one — the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas — where the Obama administration detains asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America. The group also opened a 400-bed ICE facility in Mesa Verde, California, according to its annual report.

“They see immigration enforcement and immigration detention as a cash cow for the industry,” Chen said.