Urgent Need for New Attorney General to Take Action

03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Review Detention Policies of Undocumented Immigrants and the Private Prison Companies Housing Them

The swearing-in of Eric Holder Jr. as the nation's newest Attorney General has been as anticipated among immigration lawyers and families of immigrants detained in detention facilities as was Obama's own Inauguration Day.

' border= Vice president Joseph Biden administers the oath of office to Attorney General Eric Holder during a ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington on Feb. 3, 2009. Holder's wife Sharon Malone is at center. (Source: AP: Gerald Herbert)

Aside from the fact that the new Attorney General serves as the cornerstone in an administration that is making a conscious effort to be transparent and adhere to the highest ethical standards, it's Holder's reply during his confirmation hearings that really inspired hope among immigrant advocates that true change was coming to this country.During his confirmation hearings, AG Holder had the following exchange with Senator Hatch:

Sen. Hatch: Attorney General Mukasey has decided that aliens have no constitutional right to challenge deportation orders based on lawyer error. This reversed a 15-year-old precedent. It is my understanding that the new opinion reduces, but does not eliminate, the chances of aliens succeeding on claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Do you have an opinion on this recent decision?

Eric Holder: The Constitution guarantees due process of law to those who are the subjects of deportation proceeding. I understand Attorney General Mukasey's desire to expedite immigration court proceedings, but the Constitution requires that those proceedings be fundamentally fair. For this reason, I intend to reexamine the decision should I become Attorney General.

Holder's response is a sure sign that things are changing not just at detention facilities across the country but also at the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. That was clearly evident by the recent release of the Mexican reporter Emilio Gutierrez-Soto after having served 7 months in detention after asking for asylum.

Now, the only people who need to get on board with this change of direction in immigration policy are private prison and detention companies. Those same companies that flourished under the Bush Administration and whose executives probably saw huge end-of-year bonuses thanks to all the undocumented immigrants housed in their facilities by the Department of Homeland Security, who rounded them up courtesy of local law enforcement participating in 287g programs, along with, the usual worksite and home raids conducted by ICE.

However, if there's one company that needs to get with the new program it's The GEO Group. GEO operates several immigrant detention centers around the world. Yet, it's their facility in Pecos, Texas that is drawing the most attention lately thanks to the inmates housed there.

The Pecos facility, known as the Reeves County Detention Complex R1 and R2, is a low-security facility that houses 2,200 "criminal immigrants." Since we know that the Department of Homeland Security routinely railroaded people under the former administration into criminalizing themselves, Latina Lista doesn't put much stock in this description.

Suffice it to say that they are guilty of nothing more than not having the proper paperwork to be in the country legally, among other minor offenses. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a low-security facility.

At any rate, since December there have been two riots at the Pecos facility. This latest one has left the facility, according to GEO officials with "significant damage."

But it's the company's own fault. The immigrant detainees were frustrated that GEO officials would not give them needed medical care. Feeling that no one inside the facility cared and needing to get their message out to the world, the inmates only had one recourse left to them -- send a smoke signal.

If such a situation exists in this facility then it's a safe assumption that other GEO-run facilities may be imposing the same infractions on their inmates elsewhere. That is disturbing because according to a press release this company keeps garnering government contracts.

BOCA RATON, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 14, 2009--The GEO Group (NYSE:GEO) ("GEO") announced today the opening of a 192-bed expansion of the 576-bed Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility (the "Facility") in Lovejoy, Georgia. GEO manages the Facility under a 20-year contract, inclusive of three five-year option periods, with the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee. GEO leases the Facility from the County under a 20-year agreement, with two five-year renewal options. The Facility houses detainees under custody of the United States Marshals Service.

GEO expects to complete the intake of 192 detainees in the first quarter of 2009. At the current 576-bed occupancy level, the Facility generates approximately $16.0 million in annual operating revenues. GEO expects the 192-bed expansion to generate approximately $4.0 million in additional annual operating revenues.

GEO is not alone. All the other corporations that run correctional and detention facilities must also be reviewed in how they treat their inmates.

While Attorney General Holder will be a breath of fresh air when it comes to setting a new department attitude towards the legal treatment of undocumented immigrants, it can't stop there.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must do a better job of working with the Justice Department in reversing an eight-year negative attitude towards undocumented immigrants and letting all field agents know what the rights and proper treatment of these people are. Also, the Justice Dept. and DHS must work with the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee to do periodic evaluations and increase oversight of those companies entrusted with the care of these immigrants.

Hopefully, it won't be long before companies like The GEO Group will be put on notice that locking up non-threatening undocumented immigrants isn't going to be a long-term, money-making business model.