Within the Texas legislature, a controversial bill is pending. A private prisons company called the GEO Group has allegedly asked Republicans to submit a law that could lead to immigrant children being indefinitely detained in its lucrative centers.
Representatives John Raney, John Cyrier and Mark Keough—all Republicans—have authored legislation that, if passed, would allow immigration detention centers to obtain child care licenses. Equipped with the permits, the centers would then be able to circumvent a 2015 federal ruling that said detained immigrant children must be transferred to a child care facility after 20 days in detention.
Raney, Cyrier and Keough’s bill would not require the detention centers to change their setups, but it could significantly benefit them. The GEO Group, which runs the Karnes Residential Center—one of two family detention facilities in Texas—earns $55 million annually from the facility. At present, just 100 of its 830 beds are occupied, according to the Associated Press.
This perhaps explains why the GEO Group—despite having a Greek immigrant, George Zoley as its CEO—is so keen to see Raney, Cyrier and Keough’s bill pass. So keen, in fact, that the organization essentially wrote it. “I’ve known the lady who’s [the GEO Group’s] lobbyist for a long time,” Raney told the Associated Press. That’s where the legislation came from. We don’t make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help.”
The GEO Group did not respond directly to an email from Newsweek asking if Raney’s comments were accurate. Pablo Paez, vice-president of corporate relations at the company told Newsweek that the GEO Group “supports any effort to provide appropriate levels of government oversight and ensure the highest standards of care for the children and parents entrusted to us.
The bill looks unlikely to make it into law. Opposition to holding children in detention centers is strong and already child psychologists have testified against the legislation, saying that detaining children can negatively affect their mental health. Immigrants who have been held at Karnes have also reported sexual abuse and appalling conditions at the site. In 2016, an immigrant mother, identified in court documents as E.G.S., filed a lawsuit alleging that her 12-year-old daughter was sexually abused at Karnes.