Immigrant detention means business. Native Americans are profiting from the immigrant crackdown against hopeful New Americans.
Not only are the major private prison corporations seeing their profits soar from the surge in immigrant inmates. Native American corporations, as the favored recipients of Department of Homeland Security contracts, are also cashing in on the growing opportunities to make money by detaining and imprisoning immigrants.
Last summer the Department of Homeland Security announced its decision to overhaul the widely criticized immigrant detention system run by the DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Among the promised reforms were the centralization of immigrant detention and increased oversight of its patchwork system of more than 350 immigrant detention centers owned and operated by private prison firms and local governments.
Although DHS, through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), outsources most of its arrested immigrants to private firms and governments in the business of imprisonment, the department has seven of its own detention centers (“Service Processing Centers”).
These centers, five of which are found on the southern border, have historically formed the foundation of the federal government’s immigrant detention system. But over the past two decades, the Justice Department and since 2003 have preferred outsourcing immigrants than in-house detention.
Among immigrant advocacy and human rights organizations, the DHS promise to overhaul the immigrant detention has sparked hope that ICE will stop its outsourcing practices and reestablish the government as the direct custodian of the more than 350,000 immigrants it has held for detention in recent years.
But the type of outsourcing and subcontracting practices that have led to major oversight and accountability problems that pervade ICE’s contracted facilities are deeply ingrained even within ICE’s detention centers.
An immigrant detained at the 800-bed
Doyon is one of several Native American corporations that are sealing major contracts with the Department of Homeland Security. Most are Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs), a collection of regional and village corporations created as part of the Alaska Claims Settlement Act of 1971. A few of these Native American corporations are contracting for various parts of ICE’s immigrant detention operations.
While more Native American corporations are securing DHS contracts, most of the government contracts held by ANCs and other Native American corporations are with the Department of Defense.
Contract awards to ANCs increased by 916% from 2000-2008, rising from $508.4 million in 2000 to $5.2 billion in 2008. The first volume of a two-part report recently prepared for the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for Senator Claire McCaskill found that ANC federal contracts have been increasing at a 33.6% annual rate since 2000 – six times greater than the overall increase in federal contract spending.
In 1986 Congress passed legislation that allowed ANCs to participate in the Small Business Administration's (SBA) 8(a) program. Since then, Congress has extended special procurement advantages to 8(a) ANC firms, such as the ability to win sole-source contracts for any dollar amount. A Governmental Accounting Office study in 2006 lambasted the lack of oversight and accountability by government agencies in issuing sole-source contracts to the ANCs.
The GAO said that “acquisition officials at the agencies reviewed told GAO that the option of using ANC firms under the 8(a) program allows them to quickly, easily, and legally award contracts for any value. They also noted that these contracts help them meet small business goals.”
Doyon says it “operates a diverse array of subsidiary businesses and joint ventures.”
Its main subsidiaries include Doyon Government Group, Doyon Associated, Doyon Universal Services, Cherokee General Corporation, and Doyon Drilling. These subsidiaries has other subsidiary companies and joint ventures, allowing Doyon to compete through preferential contracting in an array of business sectors propped up by government contracts – and where, as in detention services, it has little or no experience of its own.
The member of the Doyon family that contracts for immigrant detention is Doyon Security Services, part of the company’s Doyon Government Group. In addition to the
Doyon Security Services, which it says “has grown into a powerhouse in the security field during the past six years. Within the past twelve months this subsidiary has won over $266 million in new competitive contracts that employ 960 personnel in the homeland security-immigration and customs enforcement fields.”
On its website, Doyon points to its Board of Advisors for Doyon Government Group. But that board has only one member: Ret. Brig. Gen. Joe Stringham, who is hailed for his service in
While General Stringham’s experience in the
Founded in 2003, Doyon Security Services has attempted to take advantage of new federal efforts to protect government infrastructure. In addition to DHS, the company has secured federal contracts with the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, Alaska pipeline, and U.S. Navy.
Joint Ventures and Outsourcing
Immigrants arrested by ICE are often confused, understandably, about just who are their jailors – even within an ICE owned and operated detention center. The same is true for visitors who are met not by ICE personnel but by an outsourced workforce of clerical workers and security guards.
Being an immigrant in ICE custody gives one an inside look the business of detention in
In the case of
DHS awarded the $152 million contract to Doyon Ltd, a corporation that has no in-house experience in detention services. But Doyon has something better than experience. It has preference rights.
Preference gives a couple of dozen regional and village Alaska Native Corporation a priority shot at getting federal contracts. Native status gets a corporation into the door, but a company like Doyon also needs a partner that can actually do the work.
An article in Alaska Business Monthly (Oct. 2004), titled “Native corporations form prosperous joint ventures: these corporate marriages can be made in heaven if carefully thought out,” called the ANCs’ search for business partners “a corporate matchmaker’s dream.”
ANCs and other Native American Corporations have perfected the capitalist art of joint ventures and subcontracting. For its part, Doyon established a joint venture with Akal Security, the country’s fifth largest private security services firm.
Named after the Punjabi word for “deathless” (the traditional battle cry of Indian Sikhs), Akal Security was founded and is run by turbaned Sikhs.
Akal has a “Homeland Security” division, and observes that the “the U.S. government has turned to Akal to provide specialized security services for many of America’s most critical national security facilities and agencies, including the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.”
In 2008 Akal, apart from its joint ventures with Doyon and other preferential contractors, received $132 million in DHS contracts. Among other DHS security work, Akal serves as an ICE surrogate at four ICE detention centers:
The new ICE contracts at the
These ICE contracts are set aside for 8(a) companies, and through joint venturing with such native companies like Doyon, Deco, or Ahtna, larger companies with real capacity can secure contracts that would otherwise be out or reach, since they don’t otherwise qualify as small businesses, minority businesses, or native corporations. With respect to the Krome contract, the security company says that “Akal and Doyon operate under an approved mentor-protégé agreement, so with Akal as the incumbent, the effort was ideally positioned.
Describing the joint venture’s structure, Akal says that Doyon owns 51%, and “Doyon will be the principal operator on the site and Akal will provide professional and
back-end support.” In other words, like almost all of the Native American or Native Alaskan contracts with DHS, DOD, and the State Department, the non-native business will do the actual work of the contract while the native business provides the preference qualifications.
Immigrant Inmates Protest Native American Jailors
Another ANC that has taken advantage of preferential government contracts is Ahtna Development Corporation, which describes itself as “A Full-Service Operations and Maintenance Company.”
DHS contracted with the ANC’s subsidiary, Ahtna Technical Services Inc (ATSI), which had no experience in correctional services, to provide operational, maintenance, and other support services at four ICE facilities: Buffalo Federal Detention Facility,
In addition, ICE has contracted the Alaskan corporation to manage food services at six other ICE processing centers.
A New York Times article (
In April last year 200 immigrant detainees at ICE’s Port Isabel detention center organized a passive resistance campaign and hunger strike to protest alleged physical and verbal mistreatment by the staff of Ahtna Technical Services. According to immigrant-support groups, detainees also suffered due process violations and were not receiving adequate medical care.
The immigrant inmates involved in the protest complained that despite repeated complaints to ICE the abuses and deplorable conditions at the detention center had gone unresolved.
According to Maria Muentes, an organizer with Families for Freedom, “Many of the detainees are legal permanent residents from northeastern cities [and] they've been shipped to this desolate prison away from any kind of family and community support. ATSI [Ahtna] staff is being very brazen in their lawlessness. I think there's a perception that no one will speak up in defense of immigrants. It all seems designed to break down the will of the detainees so that they will agree to being deported.”
DHS says that that it owns and operates the Port Isabel detention center. However, by contracting out the operation of the center to a company with dubious professional credentials and experience and which then outsources its responsibilities to yet another company, DHS gives the impression that it is not taking direct and full responsibility for his homeland security and immigration regulation mission.
This is a problem that extends well beyond the operations of ICE to the very heart of the department’s homeland security operations, including intelligence, transportation security, and information systems – all of which are largely outsourced.
The recent intelligence and communications failures surrounding the Dec. 25 attempted terrorism incident point to the need, the urgent need, for DHS to rein in its rampant outsourcing.