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Activists, Banks and For-Profit Immigrant Detention

JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo lend to GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), for-profit operators of immigrant detention facilities under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A campaign to end these banks’ financial role is underway.

Autumn Gonzalez is with the Sacramento-based NorCal Resist, a migrant activist group advocating on behalf of the incarcerated immigrants held in GEO Group and CoreCivic facilities. “We are circulating petitions to send to the CEOs and boards of directors of GEO and CoreCivic to end their lending to private prison operators,” she said by phone. “I had a mortgage with Wells Fargo and have told them that I am not satisfied with it lending to both private prison companies.”

People from around the world are in immigrant detention stateside.

“In El Paso right now there are Sikh detainees from Punjab hunger striking, and in Yuba City (north of Sacramento) we have detainees from Southeast Asia as well as Central America and Mexico,” according to Gonzalez. “Some are folks whose families came without papers years ago, and due to some kind of minor interaction with law enforcement, such as a traffic violation, they’ve gotten caught in the ICE process.”

CoreCivic and GEO Group, based on current estimates, hold about 70 percent of the 48,000 migrants held in immigrant detention facilities, according to Emily Claire Goldman, founder and director of ESG Transparency Initiative. Its Educators for Migrant Justice Campaign recently led CalSTRS (the U.S.’s second-biggest pension fund) to divest from CoreCivic and GEO Group. CalPERS is the nation’s largest pension fund, which the Educators for Migrant Justice Campaign is focusing on to divest from CoreCivic and GEO Group.

Daniel Carrillo is the executive director of Freedom to Thrive, a network of brown and black people whose mission is to end the current penal system that disproportionately targets nonwhites.

“I think it is important to know that if people have any relationship with Wells Fargo and Chase that they are also profiting from the pain of immigrant families,” he said in an email interview. “These banks enable the expansion and operation of ICE detention through their financial relationships with GEO Group and CoreCivic—the two biggest companies in this industry.’

Activism matters.

“Other companies and institutions have ended their relationship with the detention business,” according to Carrillo, “yet these banks have refused to do so. In past years, thanks to pressure from Freedom to Thrive, Wells Fargo had announced it would end its relationship; however, at the end of the day they betrayed the community and did not divest but instead shifted their financial relationship with GEO.”

William K. Black is an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A white-collar criminologist, former financial regulator and author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. He takes a dim view of public policy that green lights for-profit detention.

“Private prisons are inherently abusive to those incarcerated and a waste of money to the public,” Black said in an email. “They breed corruption and opaqueness. Opaqueness always leads to abuses, abuses that in prison maim and cripple those imprisoned.”

JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo declined requests to comment for this story.

 

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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