Protesters push Prudential to divest from private immigrant detention center

Via Detroit News | Sarah Rahal

Troy — Protesters gathered along Big Beaver Road on Tuesday near Prudential Financial’s offices, calling on the company to divest from GEO Group Inc., a worldwide private prison contractor producing an immigrant detention center in Michigan.

The group of about 60 protesters claims Prudential is aiding imprisonment of immigrants as one of the top 10 stockholders of GEO Group as well as CoreCivic, which owns and manages private prison and immigrant detention centers.

“Prudential owns GEO stock and is the sixth-largest holder,” said Elizabeth Topp, an organizer from Lansing. “This is an important issue in Michigan and the southern border. We’re against GEO Group and its harmful practices …” 

Duncan Tarr, with the group No Detention Centers in Michigan, uses a bullhorn to help lead a protest outside a Prudential financial services branch office building on West Big Beaver, in Troy, August 13, 2019. The protestors called on Prudential to divest from GEO Group Inc., a major private prison who is producing an immigrant detention center in Baldwin, Michigan.
Protest targets investors of immigrant detention center

Founded as the Wackenhut Corp. in Coral Gables, Florida, GEO Group has grown into the single largest contractor for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, operating more than 130 detention centers and prisons worldwide, according to its website.

A coalition of groups from Michigan under the umbrella of No Detention Centers in Michigan protested Prudential’s affiliation and the GEO Group 10-year federal contract to house non-citizens sentenced in immigration offenses or other federal crimes at a former prison in Baldwin.

Prudential Financial officials said in a statement that they “respect the rights of individuals to peacefully and lawfully exercise their freedom of speech.”

“PGIM, Prudential’s asset management business, manages assets for its clients and is obligated to invest in accordance with client guidelines, whether financial or non-financial in nature,” officials said.

Meanwhile, GEO Group officials say the divestment efforts are based on a “false narrative and deliberate lies about our company.”

“We have never managed any shelters or facilities housing unaccompanied minors, including those who may have been separated from their parents,”a GEO Group statement said. “Contrary to the protesters’ false claims, the North Lake Facility in Michigan will exclusively house foreign nationals who have been convicted of felony crimes by the federal courts.”

Protesters attempted to march near Prudential’s front doors during the lunch hour but were stopped by security, which directed them back to the main road. They were also greeted by a dozen counter-protesters, some of whom held Trump 2020 flags.  Others wore shirts and caps with logos from Proud Boys, which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes as a hate group. 

Representatives for the group declined to talk to the media. A video on the group’s website describes it as “a fraternal organization like the Elks Lodge, like the Shriners, like the Knights of  Columbus; it’s a multiracial group” for which the “only prerequisite is that you’re a dude — born a dude — and you accept the West as the best.”

The GEO Group, a multibillion-dollar business based in Boca Raton, made headlines  after the United States separated migrant children from their parents at its Mexican border facilities in Texas.

The Geo Group is planning its 1,800-bed North Lake Correctional Facility under a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The company said it expects to generate about $37 million a year in incremental annualized revenues from the deal.

“Folks all across the country are encouraging financial institutions to divest from GEO Group and similar companies to make it difficult for the group to operate the way it does and eventually, make it impossible to operate in Michigan,” said Topp, 23. “They will make millions of dollars a year off imprisoning immigrants.”

The May announcement of the Baldwin construction came less than three months after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blocked the sale of another former state prison to a company that wanted to open an immigration detention center in Ionia.

The contract and two others it manages in Texas were awarded “under a long-standing procurement for the housing of non-U.S. citizen criminal aliens, commonly referred to as Criminal Alien Requirement,” the company said in a May press release.

Most non-citizens held in similar federal facilities are serving sentences for non-violent drug offenses or for re-entering the country after deportation, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has raised concerns, in other states, about housing immigrants in private prisons. 

The GEO Group defended their actions saying they have been a trusted service provider for the federal government for more than three decades under Democratic and Republic administrations, and in that time, “have never played a role in setting immigration policy nor have we ever advocated for or against immigration enforcement policies,” according to the statement.

“Like all Americans, we’re concerned about the unprecedented humanitarian and security crisis at our Southern Border,” GEO Group said. “While policymakers deliberate on the best way to address this monumental challenge, we will continue to provide the highest standard of humane residential care at all of our facilities.”

Weeks ago, GEO Group’s public relations firm, Edelman, dropped GEO Group due to the public outrage over abuses in its private detention centers near the border, according to a New York Times report

Numerous financial institutions also have divested from GEO Group and CoreCivic for their operations involving detention centers, including SunTrust, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo, according to the Times report.

Protestors march and chant outside a Prudential financial services branch office building on West Big Beaver, in Troy, August 13, 2019. The protestors claim that Prudential is a large investor of the GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison operator, which plans to re-open a correctional facility in Baldwin to house “non-U.S. citizen criminals”.
(Photo: David Guralnick, The Detroit News)

Protestors march and chant outside a Prudential financial services branch office building on West Big Beaver, in Troy, August 13, 2019. The protestors claim that Prudential is a large investor of the GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison operator, which plans to re-open a correctional facility in Baldwin to house “non-U.S. citizen criminals”. 

Employees and executives from tech giants including Microsoft and Amazon also have protested their companies’ ties to ICE and other entities involved in the separation of migrant children from their parents.

“GEO Group’s abuse and assault is made possible by Prudential’s investment,” said Anna Fisher, a coalition member. “At a moment when Jewish groups like Never Again Action, survivors of Japanese-American internment camps, and others are reminding us of the direct links between the horrors of the past and cruelties of detention in the present, we must ensure freedom and dignity for immigrants by refusing to allow this concentration camp to operate.

“Never again means right now,” she said.

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