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Advocates Leery of Cell Phones Given to Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration rights advocates are suspicious of a new government-funded program administered by GEO Care – a division of the GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies – that supplies cell phones to low-risk undocumented immigrants. Officials maintain that the $11 million cell phone program, reported by the Los Angeles Times in February 2016, helps ensure the recipients can keep in touch with their case managers and make scheduled immigration court hearings.

Those receiving the phones, which are provided at no cost, are generally families with children for whom there are few suitable facilities for detention. Approximately 25,000 immigrant families were apprehended at the southern border of the United States from October 1, 2015 through January 31, 2016 – nearly three times the number during the same period the previous year.

However, Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, a Texas immigrant advocacy group, was skeptical. “It is concerning whether the women are being tracked through their phones and whether their communications with counsel are confidential.... Considering the number of entities monitoring cell phones in general, it’s hard to believe they’re not being tracked at all,” he stated.

GEO Group, along with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has been criticized for poor conditions of confinement for immigrants housed in its for-profit facilities, including substandard food, inadequate medical care and understaffing. GEO was the subject of a highly-critical report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in September 2015 that cited numerous violations of basic human rights. Privately-operated family detention centers in Texas, run by both GEO and CCA, have been the subject of criticism, protests and lawsuits.

While the provision of free cell phones to immigrant families has been met with suspicion, at least the program provides an alternative to detention facilities.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative group, also was critical of the cell phone program, though for different reasons.

“It really is a continuation of this policy of the federal government taking over from the smugglers once the illegals get across the border and ensuring the illegal immigrants get what they paid the smuggler for and reach their destination,” he said.

Krikorian also argued that handing out the free phones might actually increase the number of undocumented immigrants trying to cross the southern border, though he failed to cite any data in support of his claims.


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