Revolving Door: Former Head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Office, Now High-Level Official at Major Detention Contractor, Asks Court to Support Secrecy
December 23, 2015, New York – In a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case related to the federal immigration detention bed quota, advocates today pointed to the government’s inclusion of several affidavits from private prison corporations who are not parties to the case as evidence of undue corporate influence. Detention Watch Network (DWN) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought the case against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to seek more information about a controversial measure by Congress to guarantee the funding of 34,000 beds each night to detain immigrants. The government has redacted substantive portions of the contracts with the private companies, claiming exemptions to protect trade secrets.
“Private corporations that profit off detentions have grown to have enormous influence over how and where immigrants are detained,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Ghita Schwarz. “Now they are controlling what information the public can get about the immigration detention system. The government is using what are supposed to be narrow FOIA exemptions to protect the interests of private corporations.”
Sixty-two percent of detention beds are administered by private prison corporations. The redacted information would show how much the companies are making per person per day and how tiered pricing works, as well as reveal the guaranteed minimums. Under tiered pricing, the more people the government sends to a location or company, the cheaper it is per person, creating what advocates call “perverse incentives” across the system to detain more people and transfer them long distances away from family and counsel.
Said DWN Co-Director Silky Shah, “The greater the share of the detention system operated by private corporations, the less transparent the system gets. But we aren’t just demanding transparency for the sake of good government—these policies have a real human impact on families and individuals caught up in the system.”
The former head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Office, David Venturella, is now a high-level official at the GEO Group, one of the largest detention contractors in the country, and submitted a declaration in the government’s filing asking the court to keep his company’s contracts secret.
CCR’s Ms. Schwarz continued, “The line between the government and the private contractors is thinner than ever—. ICE is relying on statements from a former ICE official turned high-level private prison contractor and other corporate representatives to defend government secrecy. The government has placed the interests of private prison corporations above the interests of the public.”
ICE and DHS claim the redacted information falls into a “B4” FOIA exemption, which allows the government to withhold information that would harm corporations competitively. CCR and DWN are seeking information about how the government and private corporations set rates for immigration detention beds and facilities. They say there is essentially no competitive market in government contracts that could be harmed by the release of information, that there should be nothing proprietary about the terms of a government contract, and that the public has a right to understand how Congress funds immigration detention and how that funding is influenced.
The case was filed in response to the government’s failure to comply with FOIA requests pertaining to the detention bed quota, which ICE has interpreted to require that 34,000 immigration detention beds per day be filled. However, according to Detention Watch Network, the appropriations bills merely require that 34,000 beds be funded.
Today’s filing was in response to CCR and DWN’s motion for summary judgment on the redactions and is available on CCR’s case page.
The Center for Social Justice at Seton Hall University School of Law is co-counsel in the case.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.