Local finances at stake in federal immigration debate

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Local finances at stake in federal immigration debate

The private corrections industry

Political action committees for three companies that operate immigration detention centers in the U.S. – Corrections Corporation of America, The Geo Group and Management and Training Corp. — have spent more than $7.6 million on campaign donations and lobbying at the federal level since 2008. During that time, CCA and Management and Training’s PACs contributed $32,500 to Georgia congressional candidates. CCA operates two immigration detention centers in Georgia.

2012

Corrections Corporation of America PAC

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D, $2,000

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R, $5,000

Management and Training Corporation PAC

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, $2,000

Rep. David Scott, D, $1,000

2010

Corrections Corporation of America PAC

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D, $2,000

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, $2,000

Rep. Tom Price, R, $2,250

Management and Training Corporation PAC

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D, $500

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R, $750

Rep. Hank Johnson, D, $500

Rep. Jack Kingston, R, $500

Rep. John Lewis, D, $1,000

Rep. David Scott, D, $500

2008

Corrections Corporation of America PAC

Rep. Sanford Bishop, D, $2,500

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R, $5,000

Rep. Nathan Deal, R, $1,000

Rep. Jack Kingston, R, $2,000

Rep. Tom Price, R, $2,000

Source: opensecrets.org

GAINESVILLE– Mayor Danny Dunagan worries when he talks about the massive immigration overhaul bill moving through Congress.

The reasons are complicated and perhaps a bit surprising: Gainesville’s finances are linked to a steady stream of illegal immigrants passing through a barbed wire-girded building the city owns.

Called the North Georgia Detention Center, the former jail houses hundreds of immigrants facing deportation. The private Nashville-based company that runs the 502-bed center, Corrections Corporation of America, employs more than 130 people to operate it. The payroll is $7 million, supplemented by about $295,000 in other local spending by CCA.

On top of that, CCA pays the city $825,000 in annual rent, money the city needs to help pay off $8.9 million in bonds it issued partly to buy the former jail last year, the mayor said.

If the government stops sending immigrant detainees there, CCA can cancel its lease with the city with 90 days notice, the mayor said. The loss of the rent money could force the city to raise property taxes to cover the payments on the bonds.

So the mayor is worried about the immigration bill, which could steer many immigrants facing deportation away from detention and into alternative programs in their communities.

“It’s a concern,” Dunagan said. “There is no doubt about it.”

Gainesville’s situation illustrates the far reach of the 844-page bill now pending in the U.S. Senate. Gainesville is not alone. Stewart and Irwin counties are also home to privately run immigration detention centers that employ hundreds of people.

Irwin County has already suffered. Last year, the detention center in Ocilla narrowly avoided being auctioned off at a county tax sale after its private owner’s creditors forced the company into bankruptcy proceedings.

Court records show Municipal Corrections LLC owns the center. The city and county were trying to collect $1.6 million in back taxes on the property, a big blow to a county with an annual operating budget of $4.2 million.

The county issued $55 million in bonds in 2007 partly to finance the expansion of the center, hoping to create jobs and save taxpayer money. The bonds were to be paid off with revenue from the center, which receives federal funding for holding federal detainees. But the center had not housed enough detainees to cover the bond payments, court papers show. It remains in bankruptcy proceedings as it continues to operate.

Northwest of Ocilla sits the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, which, like the one in Gainesville, is operated by CCA. It is one of the biggest and busiest of its kind in the nation, federal records show.

Between 2007 and 2011, it generated about $1.7 million for Stewart County through federal payments based on the number of detainees held there. At the time, that amount represented more than half the county’s annual operating budget.

The city of Gainesville purchased its detention center from Hall County for $7.2 million last year and entered into a lease with CCA to operate it, documents obtained under Georgia’s Open Records Act show. Eventually, the city hopes to redevelop the site for other purposes. The city’s bond payments are scheduled to continue until 2027.

“We are hoping CCA will be there for a little so that we could get some of our money out of the purchase of it,” Dunagan said. “We also knew going into this that it could go away … so if it does, we will address that issue at that time.”

Like Gainesville and the counties, , the private operators could be affected by the federal legislation. In its 2012 annual report, CCA listed “immigration reform laws” among the risks that could affect its future profitability.

The company — which reported $1.7 billion in annual revenues in 2012 — runs 15 facilities in Georgia and other states that house detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those contracts contributed 12 percent of CCA’s revenue for each of the last three years.

CCA and other private companies that operate many of the nation’s immigrant detention centers say they aren’t trying to influence the course of the immigration bill. They do, however, contribute to political campaigns.

The political action committees for CCA and two competitors — The GEO Group and Management and Training Corp. — have spent more than $7.6 million combined on campaign donations and lobbying at the federal level since 2008, according to data on opensecrets.org. During that time, CCA and Management and Training’s PACs contributed $32,500 to Georgia congressional candidates.

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