It’s SOTU Day, and the United States is on high alert preparing Biden’s remarks, from Republican quick-reaction groups to media organizations fact-checking and preparing rebuttals to keep the message in check.
In Pennsylvania, immigrant rights organizations are calling on the president to honor his commitments on immigration and close the Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility, set to become the largest detention center in the Northeast, in partnership with GEO Group, a private prison group.
“We are emphasizing and highlighting the fact that this is a detention center that opened in Biden’s home state,” said Erika Guadalupe Nunez, executive director of the New York-based immigration advocacy group South Philadelphia. ”
Moshannon is the latest in a series of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-owned and operated detention centers throughout Pennsylvania, typically located in more rural parts of the state.
Immigrant rights groups celebrated a small victory after Berks County announced that the detention center — which held a total of six detainees as of its closing date — will officially close its doors at the end of January.
According to sources familiar with the matter, all detainees were released prior to Burke’s closure.
A center closes and a bigger center opens
But what separates the Moshannon facility from the rest is its capacity of nearly 1,900 beds, making it the largest in scale known in PA.
This originally came into the limelight in late 2021 when the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Juntos against Clearfield County for holding closed-door talks with GEO Group to make Motionson an immigration center in violation of the Sunshine State Act. The center was meant to be redeveloped. Discussion before engaging in any agency business.
When the lawsuit was settled and Clearfield County commissioners received mostly negative public comment, they moved forward with the contract. GEO Group was originally going to negotiate with the Bureau of Prisons and earn $42 million in revenue before the Feds declined to sign a contract agreement in January 2021.
Clearfield County commissioners were very interested in hiring GEO and expressed disappointment that Moshannon had been left out of the contracting picture.
“We anticipate that GEO Group will be able to successfully commercialize this great resource so that the facility can employ many more Clearfield County citizens for years to come,” it said in a statement.
Ten months later, GEO Group closed a deal with Clearfield County and ICE to redevelop Moshannon into an immigration detention center.
Guadalupe Nuñez said, “Juntos went to Clearfield County to testify against the inauguration of Moshanón and the common rhetoric of people in that county, and the common rhetoric brought up by the GEO group, was that it would bring an economic boom.”
And while the Burke facility was deemed unprofitable, immigration detention centers are a source of revenue for private prison groups. In 2019 and 2020, 28% of GEO Group’s revenue came from contracts with ICE, bringing them $708 million in 2019 and $662 million in 2020, according to the Securities Market Commission.
Biden does not comment on redevelopment of detention centers
In January 2021, around the same time the feds refused to contract with GEO Group, the Biden administration issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to end contracts with private prisons.
Biden’s order, however, did not extend to the Department of Homeland Security, meaning ICE could continue to contract with private prisons in Pennsylvania and across the country.
Guadalupe Nuñez said, “Our elected leaders must do more than offer jobs that keep other people in cages. There can be deeper investments in communities that actually bring about a more holistic type of development than a detention center.” Is.”
Several elected officials in Pennsylvania have called for GEO to be shut down. Most prominent of them all is Governor Josh Shapiro, who told AL DÍA in early January that he was not comfortable with counties participating in business with for-profit prison entities.
He urged the legislature to “put a bill on my desk”.
US Senator Bob Casey also urged former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of detaining families while individual asylum cases were being reviewed.
At the county level, Congressmen Mary Gay Scanlon and Dwight Evans sent a letter to current DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, reconsidering the Fed’s stance on moving forward with Moschenon, arguing that it prevents detainees from receiving legal aid. Asked to do. Other concerns.
Guadalupe Nuñez said, “Despite campaigning on the promise of ending long-term detention and private prisons, Biden has become the detainer-in-chief of our time.”
Immigrants yearn for change
Marthita is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who has been in the United States for 15 years. He lived his first seven years in Alabama, but later moved to Philadelphia in search of better job opportunities.
Marthita remembers her early years well.
“Running. Running like a criminal. Constantly scared at work. Every time you heard the siren, you said, ‘The factory’s been burgled. We have to hide.'”
Fifteen years ago, Marthita fled Guatemala in fear of losing her life in gang violence.
A single mother of six children, Marthita’s income supports her family, who depend on her for their financial support.
“I left my youngest son when he was seven. Now he is 15.”
In 2020, she founded a Pennsylvania-based immigration advocacy group where she volunteers for causes such as Shut Down Burke, a coalition that launched an eight-year campaign to press for the closure of the Burke Residential Facility Did.
Marthita said, “We only want to live here as human beings. To be accepted. Mr. President, please accept us. Help us get what we could not get in our own country.” “That’s why we run from our countries. Because they mistreat us, rape us, kill us, murder us, that’s what we run from. And when we come here, it’s very similar “