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Washington, DC January 17, 2020 – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) questioning their anti-corruption policies and practices after a series of high-profile officials responsible for oversight of the private prison and detention industry have left to join the biggest companies in the industry. Joining the letter are Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
In the last three years, ICE’s acting director for the New Orleans field office left to work for LaSalle, a company that operates six facilities in the region; ICE’s official in charge of contracting left to work as a paid witness for private prison company GEO in a lawsuit alleging mistreatment of detained people; BOP’s assistant director, who was involved in oversight of private prisons, left to become GEO’s director of operations; and the acting head of ICE left to become Executive Vice President for contract compliance at GEO.
“The growing connections between the federal government and the for-profit prison and detention industry are made more troubling by the fact that in recent years, a number of key officials have left ICE and BOP to work for private prison and immigration detention companies — with several of these officials in positions where they work with or solicit business from their former colleagues,” wrote the lawmakers. “This pattern of high-level ICE and BOP officials leaving their posts to work for the same companies that they were in charge of regulating raises questions and concerns about corruption and compliance with federal contracting and conflict of interest law.”
In their letter, the lawmakers note particular concerns about compliance with federal contracting and conflict of interest law, including:
- Federal contracting law,which prohibits former federal agency officials from receiving compensation as “an employee, officer, director, or consultant” from a contractor that received an award of at least $10 million for at least one year after leaving the agency.
- Federal conflict of interest laws, which ban federal employees from participating “personally and substantially” in any particular matters that impact their financial interest or the financial interest of “any person or organization with whom [the employee] is negotiating or has any arrangement concerning prospective employment.”
- Federal regulations, which further prohibit employees from working on particular matters if they are “seeking employment” with a person or organization impacted by the matter, even if negotiations are not ongoing.
- President Trump’s executive order on ethics commitments by executive branch appointees, which restricts agency appointees from lobbying their former agency for five years.
The lawmakers have requested that the agencies’ response describe how they are working to ensure compliance with federal law and prevent corruption and conflicts of interest.
Senator Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal have introduced the most sweeping ethics and anti-corruption legislation since Watergate, the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which would eliminate the potential for this kind of revolving door corruption and increase public integrity. In April, Congresswoman Jayapal, along with Senator Warren and Congresswoman Pressley, introduced bicameral legislation, the Dignity of Detained Immigrants Act, to address the inhumane conditions of detention centers that the DHS used to house tens of thousands of immigrants — and end the use of private prisons and county jails to detain immigrants. It would also set humane standards for detention facilities, increase oversight of these facilities to eliminate abuse, and better protect the civil rights of immigrant detainees.
Senator Warren has also taken a number of recent actions to hold immigration authorities and private detention operators accountable, and has called to end the use of such contractors entirely:
- Following a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) report that found unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren investigated CoreCivic and GEO, as well as Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. Her report revealed that neither the companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG, and also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group and the IG about the quality of Nakamoto’s inspections.
- She requested the DHS watchdog investigate the reported use of solitary confinement at GEO and CoreCivic facilities to force participation in “voluntary” work programs, and has raised questions with federal agencies about GEO’s accreditation in 2014 and 2017, given concerning reports about the company’s facilities.
- Senators Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal sent a letter to Caliburn International Corp. Chief Executive Officer expressing concerns and posing questions about the appointment of former White House Chief of Staff and DHS Secretary General John Kelly to the company’s board of directors just four months after his departure from the Trump Administration.
- She requested the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate whether GEO violated securities laws by sharing with investors misleading statements about lawsuits brought against the company for the treatment of detainees.
- Senator Warren and Congresswoman Jayapal also raised questions about a GEO executive’s multiple stays at Trump Hotel while seeking favors from ICE.