Despite ban, ICE awards contracts for privately run immigrant jails in California
SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration awarded billions of dollars in contracts for private companies to operate immigration detention centers in California — less than two weeks before a new state law takes effect to prohibit them.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October to ban contracts for for-profit prisons starting Jan. 1. Supporters hoped the law would force U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to look elsewhere after current contracts expire.
A federal website posted long-term awards on Friday worth a combined $6.8 billion for detention facilities in San Diego, Calexico, Adelanto and Bakersfield. The sites will house about 4,000 detainees, with capacity to expand in the future.
ICE said the contracts were not subject to the new state law, deflecting criticism that the timing was meant to circumvent it.
Paige Hughes, an agency spokeswoman, said ICE believed the new contracts will limit transfers of detainees outside California, where they would be farther from family, friends and legal representatives.
“State laws aimed at obstructing federal law enforcement are inappropriate and harmful,” Hughes said.
Vicky Waters, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said Monday that ICE was trying to get around the law, which she called a historic step to address excessive incarceration, including detention of immigrants and asylum-seekers.
“For-profit prisons, including ICE-contracted facilities, run contrary to our values and have no place in California,” Waters wrote in an email. “This effort to circumvent California’s authority and federal procurement rules that safeguard the American taxpayers must be addressed by congressional oversight.”
A state Senate analysis of Assembly Bill 32 said the Trump administration would likely sue to block the law, partly by arguing that is is preempted by federal immigration law. The analysis predicted the state would prevail in court.
State legislators including Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), who wrote the bill, and advocates for immigrants also called the ICE solicitation a blatant attempt by ICE to circumvent the law in order to continue detaining immigrants in California.
Last month, 21 congressional leaders, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, released a letter to Kevin McAleenan, then-acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, expressing concern with ICE’s contracting process and asking for communications about the solicitation.
The GEO Group Inc. won two five-year extensions — one to operate the detention center in Adelanto, with capacity for 2,690 beds, and another to run the facility in Bakersfield, with capacity for 1,800 beds. The two contracts are worth more than $3.7 billion,
GEO said Monday the contracts would provide more than $200 million in annual revenue and 1,200 jobs.
CoreCivic Inc. won an extension worth $2.1 billion to operate an immigration detention center in San Diego, with capacity for 1,994 beds. Management & Training Corp. won a contract for $679 million to operate a facility in Calexico with capacity for 704 beds.
California, with its large immigrant populations and border with Mexico, is a major priority for ICE, which has found itself increasingly unwelcome under state laws. As the number of ICE detainees nationwide topped 56,000 earlier this year, the agency held more people in central Louisiana. (With reporting from National Public Radio.)