Private Prison Firm to Build Texas Immigration Center

HOUSTON (CN) – Cashing in on President Donald Trump’s focus on deporting undocumented immigrants, one of the nation’s largest prison contractors said it won a federal contract to build a 1,000-bed immigrant detention center in Texas.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement awarded the GEO Group a contract to build and operate the $110 million center in Conroe, an hour north of Houston, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company said last week.

GEO already runs the 1,517-bed Joe Corley Detention Facility in Conroe, where it houses federal pretrial detainees and prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and immigrants for ICE. It said the new facility, expected to be built by January 2019, will be part of the same complex.

GEO, a publicly traded company, said in a statement it expects to make $44 million in yearly revenue from the prison under a 10-year contract with ICE.

“We are very appreciative of the continued confidence placed in our company by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We’re pleased to have been able to build on our longstanding partnership with ICE to help the agency meet its need for detention beds,” GEO’s CEO George C. Zoley said in a statement.

GEO donated $250,000 for Trump’s inaugural events and a subsidiary donated $225,000 to a super PAC that spent $22 million to help him get elected president, USA Today reported in February.

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Trump campaigned on a promise to deport nearly all the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, frequently hosted families of people murdered by undocumented immigrants and told their stories at his campaign events, and signed a sweeping executive order shortly after he took office that calls for all people caught entering the country illegally – and even people who come to the country seeking asylum – to be detained until they are deported or granted asylum.

Past presidential administrations frequently released nonviolent immigrants arrested by ICE on bonds with their promise to show up to court hearings.

Trump’s election revived GEO’s share price. Hovering around $25 in early November when polls and pundits were predicting Hillary Clinton would easily defeat Trump in the presidential election, the price rose to around $30 with Trump’s win and is now trading at $49.16.

News of GEO’s contract to build a new detention facility in Conroe surprised Mayor Toby Powell, who found out from an April 14 story in the Conroe Courier.

“I don’t think that we need any more detention centers here in Conroe,” Powell told the Courier on April 15.

Conroe is the seat of Montgomery County. GEO contracted with the county to run the Joe Corley Detention Center after it was built in 2008 and bought it from the county for $65 million in 2013, the Courier reported.

GEO’s plans to build the new prison have been in the works since 2013 when Montgomery County officials passed a resolution supporting a second facility, but Powell wasn’t notified because he wasn’t mayor at that time.

GEO spokesman Pablo Paez told Courthouse News the Joe Corley Detention Center employs 264 people full-time and the new prison will have 337 full-time employees.

“The average salaries will range from $28,000 to $50,000 depending on position, title, experience, etc. at the new facility, which is not a jail. It’s a federal detention facility, which is very different from a jail. The facility will meet mandated, performance based standards set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Paez said in an email.

The new detention center will be located on 24 acres in an out-of-the-way complex in north Conroe that includes the Montgomery County Jail and Joe Corley Detention Center.

Montgomery County CEO Craig Doyal said few Conroe residents know about the complex and the new facility won’t blow its cover.

“Most people don’t even realize it’s there. These are immigration detainees. It’s not like it’s a prison where you have hardened criminals there. There are immigration detainees, and then they’re moved on out. To me, at that location, it’s a positive for the county and for the city. It’ll bring more jobs to the city with very little impact to the city. I don’t see a negative impact at all,” Doyal told the Courier.

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