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The Weekly Round-Up: Justice Department Delays Decision to Revoke Legal Fund for Immigrants, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Threatens to Sue ICE, and Private Prison Reports Expects Profit Increases Amid Multiple Lawsuits

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The Department of Justice, Reversing Course, Allows a Legal Funding Program for Poor Immigrants to Continue

Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce that he would continue funding for the Legal Orientation Program, which provides legal support for immigrants facing deportation, as the Justice Department continued with a review of the program.  This reverses a decision to discontinue the program just a few weeks ago, as previously reported in the blog here.

Sessions indicated, as reported in Texas Monthly, that while he was concerned about the program’s value, he recognized that the Senate committee had issues with abruptly ending it, and said, “I’ve ordered that there be no pause while the review is being conducted and I look forward to evaluating such findings as are produced and will be in communication with [the Appropriations Subcommittee] when they are available.”  The decision was welcomed by immigration advocates – Rebecca Lightsey, who runs an immigrant defense organization in Austin, Texas, said that this decision will help many people “get basic, critical information about the legal process and their legal rights.”

The NMM Immigration Blog will continue to cover this story as it develops.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Threatens to Sue Immigration and Customs Enforcement Following Arrest on Private Property

This week, Governor Cuomo sent a Cease and Desist Letter to ICE, stating that the agency was conducting illegal searches and arrests, and that if it did not stop, he would bring ICE to court.

The letter was sparked by the arrest of Marcial de Leon-Aguilar, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala.  ICE officers entered the property of John Collins, a dairy farmer in Upstate New York, and arrested Leon-Aguilar without a warrant.  Collins said that ICE officers did not identify themselves and when Collins tried to record the incident with his phone, they took it from him and tossed it away, threatening to arrest him.  Cuomo stated at a press conference that “[w]e believe ICE is violating the law,” and warned that “if they continue, the state will sue them.  Period.”

ICE Director Thomas Homan responded that the officers “acted professionally and within their legal authorities under federal immigration law,” and that the Governor’s statements were “inaccurate and an insult to ICE’s sworn law enforcement officers.”

GEO Group, a Private Prison Operator Facing Multiple Lawsuits, Expects Increased Profits Following Rise in Undocumented Immigration

This week, GEO Group, which operates about 140 prisons worldwide, including many immigration detention facilities in the United States, stated that it expects profits to increase following a recent spike in undocumented immigration, which has led to an increase in immigration arrests.

As described in Florida’s Sun Sentinel, George Zoley, chairman of GEO, said he expects more business following the detention of immigrants, and that he is “optimistic” beds in his prisons will be filled.  GEO’s net income for the first quarter of 2018 was $35 million; it also recently broadened its operations with the purchase of Community Educations Centers in New Jersey for $360 million.

GEO Group has been under significant scrutiny for the treatment of detainees at its prisons.  Several prisoners in Colorado filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that they were paid $1 per day for serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a GEO-run prison.  They also alleged that they were forced to do other work, including cleaning the prison, for no money at all.  Last year, a similar lawsuit was filed in Washington by the state attorney general’s office, alleging that not only were detainees paid $1 per day, but that sometimes the payments came in the form of candy or chips.  Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson bluntly stated: “[l]et’s be honest about what’s going on: GEO has a captive population of vulnerable individuals who cannot easily advocate for themselves,” and added that the “corporation is exploiting those workers for their own profits.”  GEO Group denied any legal wrongdoing.

If you have questions about topics covered in today’s weekly round-up, or other immigration matters, contact me at wcmenard@nmmlaw.com.