Feds considering dumping privately run immigration detention centers

Immigrants facing deportation would no longer be held in privately run detention centers in Georgia and across the nation under a proposal the Obama administration announced on Monday.

The move comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department said it would phase out its use of private prisons.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement works with 46 privately run detention centers. Of those, 11 are privately owned and operated and 35 are publicly owned but operated by private contractors. As of Aug. 8, there were 25,567 people being held in privately-operated immigration detention centers on average each day.

Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America owns and operates the Stewart Detention Center south of Atlanta and Miami-based CGL and LaSalle Corrections — headquartered in Louisiana — run the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. Both centers hold detainees for ICE.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Monday he has directed an advisory council led by William Webster — a former federal judge and a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency — to “review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated.” Johnson said he has asked the panel to consider “all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations.”

The council is expected to report back to Johnson by Nov. 30.

CCA employs 360 people with an annual payroll of about $12.4 million at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin. The center can house about 1,750 people.

“We’ve worked with the federal government to provide solutions to pressing immigration challenges for more than 30 years, and we welcome this review of our long-standing relationship,” CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in a prepared statement. “This effort builds on the unfettered, daily, onsite access ICE officials have to our facilities and the thousands of government audits we’re subject to each year. We’re proud of the quality and value of the services we provide and look forward to sharing that information with Judge Webster and his team.”

Officials with CGL and LaSalle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for an immigrant rights advocacy group called Project South, said Johnson’s announcement is “encouraging.”

“DHS needs to follow the lead of DOJ and cut ties with private corporations that profit off the imprisonment of immigrants,” she said.