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Protesters Rally Against Private Prison Contractor GEO Group

by David M. Reutter

Activists protesting President Trump’s immigration policies are also rallying against a company that profits from immigrant detention: The GEO Group. The activists have been protesting at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities as well as GEO-run detention centers.

At $471 million, GEO Group’s contract with ICE is the agency’s largest. The company has outgrown its headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, where a new six-story building is under construction. Meanwhile, protestors claim that people detained for immigration violations, which are civil matters, are treated like criminals in ICE detention facilities. 

The protests ruffled the feathers of GEO Group to such a degree that it employed the law firm of Holland & Knight to send Florida-based Dream Defenders a stern cease and desist letter that accused the group of libel and inciting violence. That letter came just four days before a series of planned protests. 

Dream Defenders was a force behind the Florida Democratic Party’s agreement to stop taking donations from private prison contractors such as GEO Group and Nashville, Tennessee-based CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) – a promise repeated by the Democratic parties of New York and California, said the organization’s leader, Rachael Gilmer.

“Our defense is the truth,” Gilmer stated. “Their business niche is literally making money off of locking people up. And maybe the police are the ones arresting people and putting them in jail, and maybe the state is responsible for that, but GEO is certainly profiting from being the ones to actually cage people and lock people up.”

When GEO Group took exception to the statement that it is caging children, the Dream Defenders doubled down on that point.

“You hold children behind bars, fences, and/or in locked facilities,” the group stated in reply to the cease and desist letter. “GEO’s own website details facilities across the country used to detain children for federal and state governments. Your own promotional materials refer to ‘standard GTI security equipment such as steel cages’ in your transportation fleet.”

In fact, GEO detains hundreds of immigrant women and children at the euphemistically-named Karnes County Residential Center, a secure facility in Texas.

The Dream Defenders also pointed out a well-publicized list of political candidates and parties that GEO Group contributes to, and invited the firm to update the list after it questioned the list’s accuracy. The group pointed out that while GEO Group may be “‘lawfully’ influencing our politicians with donations [it] is not the same as exercising [influence] morally or properly.”

“Threatening us with lawsuits won’t stop us from exposing the truth about what the GEO Group and other Dream Killers are doing to our communities,” the Dream Defenders wrote. “GEO not only maintains the physical walls separating inmates and detained immigrants from their families, but has even profited off of the few minutes of connection detainees have over the phone.”

The activists have continued to be resilient even in the face of arrests. Seven protestors were arrested at a July 16, 2018 rally outside GEO’ Group’s Broward Transitional Center, and ten of 160 people who gathered at a GEO facility in Tacoma, Washington were arrested after they blocked a street outside the facility on June 26, 2018. 

“It was a peaceful protest,” stated Carol Kindt, though she said things “escalated quickly” after police arrived.

The Dream Defenders said they will continue to protest and inform people that “just because GEO is not directly responsible for sentencing or deciding which families to incarcerate, detain or deport does not absolve the company of participating in a racist system of mass incarceration that has its roots in slavery and Jim Crow laws.” 

On August 7, 2018, the Dream Defenders and the Florida Immigrant Coalition gathered about 100 protestors at GEO Group’s temporary headquarters to express outrage over the company’s continued operation of ICE facilities. They placed a number of dolls in a chainlink fence enclosure outside the building to represent children held in detention.

“We’re here to protest GEO Group because they profit from the suffering of humans,” said Dream Defenders spokeswoman Nailah Summers. 

Speaking for GEO, spokesman Pablo Paez called the allegations “outrageous and based on malicious lies about our company,” adding the firm “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.”

The protestors have also taken their fight to the lenders that finance GEO Group and CoreCivic, especially J.P. Morgan Chase, whose CEO, Jamie Dimon, complained in a Washington, D.C. interview in October 2018 that his firm’s annual shareholder meetings have become “a farce” that now “get hijacked” by protests. 

Before that, at another protest outside Dimon’s co-op on Manhattan’s upper East Side, chants were halted and an audio recording played of children sobbing inside a Texas detention center where they had been separated from their parents by ICE.

Following GEO Group’s cease and desist letter served on the Dream Defenders, the ACLU issued a statement slamming the company’s heavy-handed approach, saying, “Not content with making baseless defamation claims, GEO goes on to accuse Dream Defenders of ‘inciting a dangerous disruption’ and ‘encouraging threatening and violent behavior.’ Neither of these allegations passes the laugh test.” 



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