A liberal activist group fighting to abolish ICE is falsely accusing a for-profit prison company of separating families and is planning to amplify that message in nationwide protests at the company's ICE detention facilities next week.
The Florida-based group, Dream Defenders, is targeting GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., charging it with profiting from the Trump administration's tougher immigration policies.
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A tally of GEO Group's government contracts from 2015 to 2017 does not back up Dream Defenders' claims about GEO Group's government contracts soaring during the Trump administration. Instead, it shows a big surge in government contracts to GEO Group occurred during the Obama administration, which have since been cut nearly in half.
The company, which designs, develops and operates immigration detention centers, minimum-security detention facilities and mental-health treatment facilities around the world, received $527 million in government contracts in 2017, up from the $463 million in 2016 but still significantly lower than the $1.3 billion it took in in 2015, during the Obama administration, according to the Project on Government Oversight.
Shares of the company's stock spiked at the beginning of the Trump administration to a high of $33 in June of last year, up from an average of roughly $25 from 2014 to 2016, during the Obama administration.
However, the stock fell back down to $20 earlier this year, only jumping back to $26 in late June after Trump said ICE would stop separating families caught crossing the Mexican border.
The policy of holding parents and children together creates new demand for detention centers, fueling the stock's rise, albeit only slightly above the figures during the Obama administration.
Attacking the private prisons that contract with ICE and other federal agencies has become the new rallying cry of "abolish ICE" supporters, even though the federal government contracts and company stock has been consistent since the flood of immigrants from Central America started happening each summer during the Obama administration.
Nearly 70 percent of ICE's detention facilities are owned or operated by private contractors, according to 2016 Department of Homeland Security figures, the latest available. ICE itself runs just 10 percent, while 20 percent are local jails.
A website Dream Defenders purchased last week, geocages.com, promises to "take down GEO" and "make GEO Group politically toxic on the national stage." The group is organizing a "national day of action" on Aug. 7 dedicated to trying to "shut down" the company by holding protests outside its facilities across the country.
The background of the geocages.com website is a photo of what appears to be two immigrants, including a young girl, lying on a cement floor with a blanket over them and a metal chain-link fence showing as the backdrop. The photo provides no identifying markings indicating that the facility depicted is a GEO Group-run detention center.
"Ever heard of GEO Group? Probably not—even though they make billions a year separating families, caging children, detaining immigrants, and throwing black people in prison," the website states. "This is big business in America."
However, GEO Group says the facilities it manages have never housed unaccompanied minors, including those children separated from their parents during the President Trump's now-abandoned "zero tolerance" policy.
GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez said the allegations Dream Defenders is leveling against the company are "outrageous and based on deliberate lies and our role as a longstanding service provider to the government."
"Our company has never managed facilities that house unaccompanied minors, including those who have been separated from their parents, nor have we ever provided any other services for that purpose," he said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.
Instead, the facilities it runs care mainly for adults, except one, the Karnes Family Residential Center, which Paez has pointed out cared exclusively for mothers together with their children since 2014 when the Obama administration established it.
Paez also stressed GEO Group's dedication to running facilities with "high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe, secure and humane environments."
"These residential centers provide extensive recreational amenities, such as artificial turf soccer fields and flat screen TVS in all housing areas," he added.
"These attacks on our company and our employees are nothing but a deliberate attempt to advance a public policy agenda aimed at disrupting ICE operations," he said, accusing Dream Defenders and other groups of "willfully" ignoring that the company plays no role in advocating for or passing immigration policies.
Dream Defenders did not respond to a request for comment.
On its Facebook page, the group boasted about disrupting Florida Gov. Rick Scott's speech multiple times at a Republican Party event on Saturday in Sarasota, Fla. The protesters criticized Scott for accepting campaign contributions from GEO Group executives and a company subsidiary.
Dream Defenders was founded in the wake of the shooting and death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Members of the group and some of its organizers camped for 31 days outside of Scott's office in 2013 to protest George Zimmerman's acquittal in the case.
The group is now focused on opposing high incarceration rates for black and Hispanic minorities and has recently targeted for-profit prisons and the public pension funds that invest in them.
Recently, the group has also vocally opposed the National Rifle Association, as well as Trump's travel ban on citizens from several Muslim-majority countries.
Dream Defenders' nonprofit status is also unclear. It calls itself a 501(c)4, a charity dedicated to social welfare issues on Twitter, but there are no 501(c)4 filings for the organization on online IRS databases. Public filings at the IRS and in the group's articles of incorporation in Florida list it as a more expansive 501(3) charity whose donations are tax-deductible.
The group filed IRS charitable "990" documents in 2013 and 2014 saying it has less than $50,000 in receipts for each year; there are no IRS filings for the years after 2014. A website for the San Francisco-based, George Soros-backed Tides Center, an off-shoot of the larger Tides Foundation that serves as an incubator for smaller liberal organizations, features Dream Defenders as a "social venture" of Tides.
Soros' Open Society Foundation has given at least $60 million to the Tides group of nonprofits since 2003, according to a search of filings in the Foundation Directory Online database of charitable records.
Financial filings for Tides show at least $900,000 from other foundations earmarked for Dream Defenders from 2013 to 2016. Dream Defenders "donate now" function on their website makes no mention of the Tides affiliation until the payment shows up on a credit card statement as "Tides/Dream Defenders."
In recent months as the media have scrutinized the records of immigration detention centers, a number of for-profit prisons have come under fire for incidents involving sexual abuse and other harmful treatment that have occurred at the facilities.
A POGO database of lawsuits against GEO Groupc for alleged misconduct of its employees says the company has paid $5 million in settlements in six cases since 2006 with eight cases still pending and no penalties ordered in four cases.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) on Monday called for inspector general investigations into reports that immigrants have experienced abuse at detention facilities, both those run by private companies and those owned and operated by the federal government.
Grassley stressed that the issue is not a political one—that the allegations of some of the worst abuse in detention facilities date back to 2014—but some of the allegations are coming to light now because of the focus on the administration's family-separation policy.