U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is soliciting private-sector interest in a new detention center to hold 1,000 people in South Texas, according to a notice posted Wednesday on a federal contracting site.
The post is a preliminary request for information, asking for room to house men and women within 50 miles of I-35. ICE said its preference is for a facility dedicated to holding its detainees, but it would consider a large facility with inmates from another agency. The agency said it will consider pre-existing facilities, renovated old facilities or new construction.
The contract would mean more good news for the private prison industry, which has rebounded quickly under President Donald Trump. A year ago, the federal government seemed poised to end deals with the private prison industry’s biggest players, after federal inspectors noted safety concerns in their facilities.
In the three months following Trump’s election, stocks in The GEO Group Inc. and CoreCivic went up 98 and 140 percent, respectively, signaling investors’ expectations that the government would do more business with the companies soon.
The industry is dominated by those two companies, both of which helped bankroll Trump’s presidential campaign; political arms of each contributed $250,000 to his inauguration party. The Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit campaign finance watchdog, has filed complaints about some of those contributions, alleging that they violated a ban on campaign contributions by federal contractors.
In April, The GEO Group announced plans to build a 1,000-bed facility for ICE in Conroe, north of Houston, under a deal worth $110 million. However, ICE began soliciting contractors for that facility in 2015, well before Trump took office.
The new South Texas facility likely would be the largest since then, according to Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based nonprofit that tracks private prisons and advocates against expanding them.
“This would continue the trend of this administration’s giveaways to the private prison industry at the expense of immigrants that it’s targeting for deportation,” Libal said. The region already is home to many of ICE’s largest detention centers, in remote towns without easy access to legal help, he said.
“I would question the logic behind this,” he said, “because from what we’ve heard, for the most part, asylum-seeking folks, that population has declined in the first few months, while internal apprehensions have increased.”
On a call with investors in August, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger anticipated that any growth in business would come farther from the border.
“Interior enforcement efforts could create demand for additional detention capacity in other areas of the country,” he said.
Congress mandates that ICE pay for at least 34,000 immigrant detention beds per day, but lately, ICE’s daily population has been much higher. Its daily average population through Aug. 26 was 38,153, according to The Denver Post.
A combination of Trump-era policies suggests that number likely will continue to climb. From January to June this year, ICE arrested 40 percent more people than over the same period last year. It now paroles fewer asylum seekers – including those who are pregnant – and people are waiting longer for hearings before a judge.