JPMorgan Chase Stops Funding Prison Industry Companies, and Immigration Activists Applaud

Via NY Times | Emily S Rueb

In 2017, hundreds of protestors gathered outside of JPMorgan Chase & Company’s headquarters in New York to protest the bank and the Trump administration’s immigration policies.CreditCreditErik McGregor/Pacific Press, via LightRocket, via Getty Images

Immigrant rights advocates and organizers protesting the Trump administration’s policies celebrated a victory this week after JPMorgan Chase & Company said it would no longer finance private operators of prisons and detention centers.

As the administration has stepped up efforts to detain undocumented migrants, privately run prisons have become the government’s default detention centers for them, despite reports questioning the facilities’ safety. In addition to securing lucrative government contracts, these private companies have also borrowed money from large banks.

A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase & Company, Andrew Gray, said on Tuesday the company had “a robust and well established process to evaluate the sectors that we serve.”

“As part of this process,” he said, “we will no longer bank the private prison industry.”

Mr. Gray did not immediately respond to a question about whether the decision was related to public pressure.

Last year, two of the country’s largest private prison companies, CoreCivic and GEO Group, borrowed about $1.8 billion from several banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Matthew Toole, deals intelligence director at Refinitiv, said on Wednesday. Prison finance represents a small portion of the bank’s overall business, according to Reuters.

While facilities operated by private companies house about 9 percent of the country’s prison population, they hold about three-quarters of immigrant detainees.You have 2 free articles remaining.SUBSCRIBE TO THE TIMES

Ana Maria Archila is the co-executive director for the Center for Popular Democracy, a national network of community organizations and individuals that has organized public protests at the bank’s headquarters, at annual meetings and outside the bank’s chief executive’s home in Manhattan.

In an interview on Tuesday, she said the bank became a focus for its role in profiting from “the caging of humans,” which she described as a “morally bankrupt act.”

“I am reminded that when we dare to protest, even when it seems impossible, that we actually lift up the veil on things that were not visible,” said Ms. Archila.

Ms. Archila said the protests had been part of a broader effort by activists to call out corporate entities who they see as “legitimizing” the Trump administration’s policies, including the aggressive enforcement of immigration policies and the forcible separation of immigrant children from their parents at the border.A CoreCivic facility in Phoenix in 2018.CreditGabriella Angotti-Jones/The New York Times

A CoreCivic facility in Phoenix in 2018.CreditGabriella Angotti-Jones/The New York Times

While testifying to Congress on Wednesday, Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, was defiant in the face of criticism over the department’s treatment of migrant families at the border, especially over the separation of children from their parents. Ms. Nielsen also encouraged lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow the indefinite detention of families and to more easily turn back claims of asylum by migrants from Central America.

Representatives for the prison companies expressed frustration with JPMorgan Chase’s decision and what they saw as a weaponization of political will.

“JP Morgan has served an important role in creating better conditions for inmates entrusted in our care,” Rodney E. King, a spokesman for CoreCivic, said on Tuesday.

Mr. King added that the company’s immigration facilities did not provide housing for children who weren’t under the supervision of a parent.

“These divestment efforts are politically motivated and based on a deliberate mischaracterization of our role as a long-standing service provider to the government,” he said.

Emily Covington, a spokeswoman for the GEO Group, which operates dozens of about 130 dozens of correctional, detention and community re-entry sites in the United States, said Tuesday that the company had never managed facilities that house unaccompanied minors, including those who may have been separated from their parents.

Several activists and politicians embraced the news, including New York City’s comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, who called the development “huge.

On Valentine’s Day this year, an immigrants rights group, Make the Road New York, sent a mariachi band and protesters with “Break Up With Prisons” signs to the townhouse of JPMorgan Chase & Company’s chief executive, Jamie Dimon.

“If we come together and are diligent,” Javier H. Valdés, the group’s co-executive director, said Tuesday, to “build strong coalitions and work with powerful allies, we can actually win and help shift the narrative of enforcement in this country.”

Ms. Archila, one of several protesters arrested on charges of blocking the entrance to the bank’s headquarters in Manhattan in May 2017, said targeting the financial services industry was a new frontier in the campaign for immigrants’ rights.

“In some ways, the Trump era is one of fighting against incredible odds, to protect our communities, to protect ourselves, to protect each other,” she said.

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