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Immigration Detention Facilities Continue to Pose Fraud Risks

Posted  May 9, 2019
By Sarah “Poppy” Alexander

Last summer, we wrote about the fraud risks inherent in the massive increase in government spending for immigration detention. Almost one year later, a child’s tragic death again calls attention to failures at the immigration facilities that maintain ever increasing government contracts. On April 30, 2019, a sixteen-year-old boy died at a Southwest Key facility in Brownsville, TX, two weeks after arriving in the U.S. The cause of death remains unknown. This is the third known child death in immigration detention facilities in the last year.

The federal government contracts with private companies to house and support minor immigrants and refugees. Many of these companies also run private prisons for the government, while some, like Southwest Key, are technically non-profits. As reported by Buzzfeed, Southwest Key received $626 million in those contracts last year. Prison companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) more than doubled their revenues from immigration detention from 2005 to 2013, and those profits have increased significantly since then.

These large government contract numbers do not, however, guarantee that facilities are doing their job. In addition to the unspeakable tragedy of children dying, the government catalogued 5,859 allegations of sexual abuse in just Southwest Key’s facilities since 2014.

And it’s not just children who may suffer while detained. Other alarming stories from these facilities have become so common that two out of our Whistleblower of the Year candidates for 2018 earned their nominations by reporting on abuses in immigration facilities. We nominated Reveal for a Whistleblower of the Year award based in part on their investigation into the death of Jean Carlo, who committed suicide after ICE allegedly failed to take proper suicide-prevention measures. We also nominated Drs. Pamela McPherson and Scott Allen for revealing inhumane conditions in family detention facilities. These immigration whistleblowers and others have done important work in shining a light on what can easily remain hidden and unknown tragedies behind closed and locked doors.

Like any government contractor, the private companies and organizations running these facilities have basic obligations to uphold the law. Yet too many fail to do so. Without whistleblowers, government agencies have few resources for monitoring contractors and their contractual obligations. And as spending on immigration detention continues to expand, these failures risk becoming more rampant.

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Tagged in: Contract Non-Compliance, Correctional Services Fraud, Government Procurement Fraud, Human Rights,


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