Last month, immigrant and workers’ rights groups, led by the Center for Popular Democracy and Make the Road New York, launched the “Corporate Backers of Hate” campaign. The groups are targeting nine corporations that, activists argue, stand to profit off of policies pushed by President Donald Trump. These include several companies whose CEOs sit on the president’s Business Council.
“We are launching this campaign today because we know the extent to which President Trump is able to implement his anti-immigrant, anti-worker agenda actually depends heavily on how much collaboration he is able to muster,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, during a press conference. “On immigration, for instance, the White House will rely on the work of private companies to provide the funding, software, and manpower to ramp up deportations, to build detention facilities, and to build a border wall.”
The companies include JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Disney, IBM, Uber, and the Blackstone Group. Many are being targeted for their direct financial ties to private prison and immigrant detention companies, namely GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA). For example, as of June 2016, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase each provided CoreCivic (then CCA) $14.3 million worth of loans, according to a report published by In the Public Interest last year. That report also noted that a syndicate of “at least six banks,” including Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, “has loaned GEO Group $450 million through the company’s revolving credit.”
“By providing CCA and GEO Group with debt financing, the banks are complicit with the private prison companies in contributing to and enabling mass incarceration and the criminalization of immigration,” the report states.
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Private prisons hold 8 percent of the country’s prison population but 65 percent of all immigration detainees, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report released in 2016. According to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), GEO Group and CoreCivic combined detain approximately 15,000 detainees on any given day.
Since the election, stocks in both companies have more than doubled. And with DHS already trying to hire more than 10,000 new immigration officers and 5,000 more border control agents under Trump’s ramped-up immigration enforcement, stock analysts forecast the value of private prison companies will only continue to grow.
Meanwhile, the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a nonpartisan organization that works to enforce campaign finance laws at federal, state, and local levels, argues that GEO Group may have violated the law to support and back Trump’s campaign before his election.
A letter submitted by CLC to the Federal Election Commission on December 20 shows evidence that GEO Group may have illegally donated $225,000 to the Trump-affiliated super PAC Rebuilding American Now, in violation of the 75-year-old ban on government contractors making political contributions. Federal contracts make up 45 percent of both GEO Group and CoreCivic’s annual revenue.
“By contributing to a super PAC closely associated with Trump—the only presidential nominee to endorse private prisons—GEO presumably sought to influence the government contracting process and to ensure that a Trump administration would protect its access to taxpayer dollars,” said Brendan Fischer, associate counsel for the CLC, in a statement published on the organization’s website.
Both GEO Group and CoreCivic have been accused of human rights violations at their facilities, including in a recent Human Rights Watch/CIVIC report noting the substandard—to a sometimes fatal degree—medical care for individuals in immigration detention centers run by the companies. GEO Group, for example, is involved in an ongoing lawsuit that alleges the company forced tens of thousands of immigrant detainees to work for $1 a day or nothing at all; it’s the first time a judge has allowed a class-action suit against a private prison company to proceed. CoreCivic, meanwhile, has been accused of cutting costs at the risk of endangering guards and prisoners, as reported by Mother Jones‘ Shane Bauer, who spent four months undercover as a guard in a CoreCivic Louisiana prison.
The first phase of the “Corporate Backers of Hate” campaign, which begins in May and will last through the summer, involves educating communities on the role of corporations in allowing the private prison system, and other systems that propagate injustice, to thrive.
In this way, emphasized Matt Nelson, executive director of Presente, during the press conference, partner organizations across the country will “enact wide-scale corporate accountability.”
On May Day, campaign supporters marched in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and other primarily urban areas around the country. As part of these protests, Gothamist reports, 12 people were arrested for civil disobedience for blocking the entrances to the main JPMorgan Chase in Manhattan. In Charlotte, North Carolina, campaign supporters were denied entrance to the main headquarters of Bank of America while seeking to present the bank’s staff with a letter requesting that it distance itself from Trump’s immigration policies. (Though Bank of America is not specifically being targeted, the action in Charlotte was associated with the campaign.)
According to the groups involved, the campaign will also include a series of escalating direct actions. For instance, the campaign’s website allows users to send messages directly to CEOs and board members of the nine corporations, demand they withdraw their support for various projects that endanger human rights.
Though none of the nine companies have provided public reactions to the campaign—including any response to Rewire’s requests for comment—some of those affected by Trump’s policies say they feel heartened by the efforts. Manuel A., who attended the Backers of Hate press conference, was detained in 2014 after fleeing El Salvador. While fighting his asylum case, he says, he was detained in a jail run by CoreCivic in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
“If this campaign had existed while I was detained it would have been such a big support to me; [showing] there’s a community of support to free immigrants like me,” Manuel wrote to Rewire in an email, via a translator. “The worst thing about being detained so far from your loved ones is feeling alone, like no one remembers you exist.”
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