By Alan Bean
When the for-profit giant Geo Corp insisted a few months ago that they would stay out of the immigration reform debate I was suspicious. These people are in the money-making business and real reform would have a disastrous impact on the bottom line. The industry wants the US government to lock up as many people for as long as possible because that’s what a decent ROI demands. The private prison people don’t care about the families that are ripped apart by the draconian policies they advocate or whether the punitive approach makes a lick of sense. They aren’t in the making sense business; their in the money-making business. Which is why they should not and must not influence the political process. As this article from the Nation makes clear, the private prison industry is deeply invested in the political process because the shape of reform emerging from Washington is a make or break proposition. It is particularly significant, as I have frequently noted, that the for-profit prison boys are big supporters of the the Gang of Eight (more on this below).
Earlier this year, one of the largest private prison corporations in the country sent out a statement to reporters claiming that it would not lobby in any way over the immigration reform debate. A new disclosure shows that the company, the Boca Raton–based Geo Group, has in fact paid an “elite team of federal lobbyists” to influence the comprehensive immigration reform legislation making its way through Congress.
The Geo Group currently manages several immigrant detention facilities for the federal government, and has faced questions about its role in shaping policies that may lead to more incarceration. In February and March, Pablo Paez, the Geo Group’s vice president of corporate relations, told media outlets, including the Financial Times and The Nation, that his firm would steer clear of immigration reform politics. See statement below (emphasis added):
“The GEO Group has never directly or indirectly lobbied to influence immigration policy. We have not discussed any immigration reform related matters with any members of Congress, and we will not participate in the current immigration reform debate.”
Geo Group’s quarterly lobbying disclosure tells a different story. A disclosure filed in April shows that the company turned to Navigators Global to lobby both houses of Congress on “issues related to comprehensive immigration reform.” Navigators Global, a corporate government affairs firm founded by several Republican aides, has been retained by the Geo Group since 2011, though previous lobbying disclosures show the firm primarily worked on federal appropriations. The latest disclosure, however, shows that their scope of work on Capitol Hill shifted in the first three months of this year to include the immigration bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. See screenshot of the disclosure below:
The private prison industry has developed close ties to leading members of Congress, including those in the so-called Gang of Eight leading the immigration reform discussions. Senator Marco Rubio, who is perhaps the most visible Republican on the issue, has received generous campaign donations from the industry, including from Geo Group.
The new disclosure suggests an even greater bind to the company because Cesar Conda, Rubio’s chief of staff, was the founding partner of Navigators Global. As we reported, he has continued to receive payments from the firm through a stock buy-out agreement reached after Conda entered work for Rubio.
Demands for an “enforcement-first” approach to immigration reform could dramatically benefit private prison operators. Conservative lawmakers have called for new criminal penalties for immigrants, mandates to local law enforcement to check the status of those suspected of being undocumented, and an expansion of current guidelines classifying undocumented immigrants as “criminal aliens”—all policies that could lead to more people being detained in private prisons, thus more profit for the industry. It’s no wonder Geo Group is now directly lobbying on the bill.