Is Immigration Enforcement Good for Business? A Look Inside GEO Group, Inc.

in Government/Public Policy

By Ashley Zavala

Spotlight – The Geo Group, Inc.

Since his inauguration, President Trump has posted tweets and has implemented executive orders and immigration policies that have been extensively covered by the American news media. With politics so heavily publicized and debated, certain factors often go overlooked, such as how these immigration policies are carried out and by what entity. Although the privatization of government institutions and enforcement is not novel, in debating President Trump’s immigration policies, the general public is largely unaware of the role American corporations have played in those actions. That leaves one question unanswered: Is immigration enforcement “good” for American businesses? In answering this question, this article will conduct a case study that examines the presence, growth, and operations under the Trump administration’s engagement of The GEO Group, Inc., an American corporation that detains illegal immigrants across the nation.

Immigration Enforcement: A Continuation of an Existing System of a New Policy System?

As President Trump nears the end of his first term, Democrats and Republicans alike have come to see his strict immigration policies as a defining factor of his presidency. However strict, America is divided in its view of President Trump’s policies, and many citizens are ill informed on the effect of his immigration policies on “culture, security, and the U.S. economy.”[1] Regardless of personal political views, are President Trump’s immigration policies unique and unprecedented, or are they a continuation of previous immigration policies?

In general, President Trump has promised an American immigration system that will “serve the national interest” by enforcing our nation’s borders and protecting American workers by “ending chain migration, eliminating the Visa Lottery, and moving the country to a merit-based entry system.”[2] President Trump himself has praised his predecessors, President Obama and President Bush, for their work in removing “tremendous numbers of people out of the country,” all under “existing laws.”[3] For example, to combat the rise in immigration since 2000, the Bush administration adopted the catch-and-release policy, releasing illegal immigrants while they awaited their immigration proceedings.[4]

Under President Obama, deportations increased and administrative discretion was exercised to mold immigration enforcement where federal law was silent or inexplicit.[5] Despite praising his predecessors, President Obama’s term decreased the number of deportations after an initial rise, and unlike President Trump, President Obama’s administration favored certain immigration benefits, such as DACA, (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) granting immigration and employment status to 600,000 young adults.[6] In addition, President Trump abandoned the Bush era catch-and-release policy and adopted his own “zero tolerance” policy, detaining immigrants while they waited for their immigration proceedings and issuing blanket deportation orders for those with any criminal offense (e.g. ranging from felonies to minor traffic offenses).[7]

Although building upon existing immigration policies, President Trump has strongly increased immigration enforcement and has made his immigration ideology known to the public. Once inaugurated, President Trump called for an expansion of both detention facilities to detain illegal immigrants at the Mexico border and immigration judges.[8] Shortly thereafter, he issued Executive Order 13,769, restricting legal immigration for individuals into the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries, in reference to the 2001 terrorist attacks.[9] In dealing with the influx of migrant families attempting to cross the Mexican-American border, President Trump began separating children from their parents in detention facilities for which he received major backlash.[10] Furthermore, the Trump administration has limited existing immigration benefits, such as eliminating the possibility of asylum for victims of gangs or domestic violence.[11] Although working with a pre-existing immigration enforcement framework, President Trump has adopted a stricter implementation approach than the American public has seen in modern times.

GEO Group, Inc.

The GEO Group, Inc. is a Florida based, worldwide government contractor, primarily providing leasing of its private detention facilities to governments and institutions, boasting 135 facilities with a 96,000-bed capacity to house individuals.[12] For example, from 2012 to 2016, GEO enjoyed 96.7% to 100% contract renewals from their leased facilities, a reflection of the high demand for private detention contractors.[13] Although operating internationally, GEO is most profitable within the United States, and their total domestic revenue has risen steadily from 2016 to 2018.[14] The corporation’s largest customer is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), comprising 28% of GEO revenue.[15] GEO has the most facilities in Texas, followed by California, with Texas seeing an increase in the total number of beds from 20,733 to 20,943.[16] In 2017, ICE comprised 18.9% of GEO revenue[17], compared to 2016, where ICE comprised 18.4%.[18] An example of leased facilities to ICE is the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, which opened in 2011 and houses both men and women who have been detained by ICE either at the border or within the United States as they await their immigration proceedings.[19]

Good For Business? Trump, Detention Centers, and the Media

With a call for an increase in detention centers and a total increase in detained immigrants, one would assume that GEO’s profitability and contractual relationship with the American government would expand. However, comparing the fourth quarter supplemental disclosures by GEO from 2016 to 2018, there has not been a dramatic increase for GEO in terms of new locations, revenue, and capacity. Despite this steady financial relationship with ICE, the widespread media coverage of Trump’s immigration policies has drawn attention to detainee conditions at detention centers, resulting in severe criticism and backlash from the American public and legal entities, possibly restricting GEO’s profitability.[20]

An example of this criticism belongs to GEO’s very own Adelanto ICE Processing Center, where a surprise government inspection at the facility revealed homemade nooses in detainee cells.[21]  In addition, the Adelanto detention facility was barred by the State of California from altering its federal contract with ICE, prohibiting expansion and contract renewals for 10 years, as a result of California’s “federal immigration crackdown” to “ensure that people in immigration detention are treated humanely.”[22] The Homestead Branch Temporary Influx Facility, another privately-owned detention center, has been called “the most controversial,” as attorneys have vocalized their concern over the trauma experienced by detained minors.[23]

In conclusion, despite the rise in immigration enforcement and President Trump’s strict immigration policies, corporations such as GEO Inc. have not seen a dramatic increase in revenue, locations, or capacity. However, due to the intense media coverage of Trump’s presidency, GEO and other similar for-profit corporations that serve as the arm of immigration enforcement receive greater criticism and backlash for their operations. The answer to our case study question is uncertain for now, but the continuance of strict immigration policies or a possible second term for President Trump can possibly reveal whether an increase in immigration enforcement really is “good for business” or whether increased scrutiny limits profitability.



[1] Laura Santhanam, Trump’s Immigration Policy Splits Americans in Half, Poll Says, PBS (Dec. 11, 2018), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/trumps-immigration-policy-splits-americans-in-half-poll-says.

[2] See generally Immigration, WHITE HOUSE, https://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration/ (last visited Apr. 5, 2019).

[3] Scott Horsley, 5 Things to Know About Obama’s Enforcement of Immigration Laws, NPR (Aug. 31, 2016), https://www.npr.org/2016/08/31/491965912/5-things-to-know-about-obamas-enforcement-of-immigration-laws.

[4] Salvador Rizzo, President Trump’s Claim That Democrat’s Created ‘Catch and Release’ Policies, WASH. POST (Apr. 4, 2018), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2018/04/04/president-trumps-claim-that-democrats-created-catch-and-release-policies/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9edde426cf94.

[5] Horsley, supra note 3.

[6] Id.

[7] Exec. Order No. 13,767, 82 Fed. Reg. 8793 (2017).

[8] Id.

[9] Exec. Order No. 13,769, 82 Fed. Reg. 8977 (2017).

[10] Family Separation: By the Numbers, ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/issues/immigrants-rights/immigrants-rights-and-detention/family-separation (last visited Apr. 5, 2019).

[11] Matter of A—B–, I&N Dec. 316 (B.I.A. June 11, 2018). 

[12] Supplemental Information: Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018, GEO GRP. (Dec. 31, 2018), http://investors.geogroup.com/Cache/1500117290.PDF?O=PDF&T=&Y=&D=&FID=1500117290&iid=4144107.

[13] Supplemental Information: Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2016, GEO GRP. (Dec. 31, 2016), http://investors.geogroup.com/Cache/1500096115.PDF?O=PDF&T=&Y=&D=&FID=1500096115&iid=4144107.

[14] Supplemental Information: Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018, supra note 12.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Supplemental Information: Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2017, GEO GRP. (Dec. 31, 2017), http://investors.geogroup.com/Cache/1001232207.PDF?O=PDF&T=&Y=&D=&FID=1001232207&iid=4144107.

[18] Supplemental Information: Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018, supra note 12.

[19] Our Locations, GEO GRP., https://www.geogroup.com/FacilityDetail/FacilityID/24 (last visited Apr. 5, 2019).

[20] Lawsuit: ICE Detention Centers Deny Detainee Contact with Attorneys, ACLU (Dec. 17, 2018), https://www.aclusocal.org/en/press-releases/lawsuit-ice-detention-centers-deny-detainees-contact-attorneys.

[21] Catherine Shoichet, Inspectors Found Nooses Hanging in Cells at an ICE Detention Facility, CNN (Oct. 3, 2018), https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/03/politics/immigrant-detention-adelanto-oig-report/index.html.

[22] Paola Baker, Adelanto Detention Facility Barred from Expanding for Another Decade, VICTORVILLE DAILY PRESS (July 13, 2017), https://www.vvdailypress.com/news/20170713/adelanto-detention-facility-barred-from-expanding-for-another-decade.

[23] John Burnett, Inside the Largest and Most Controversial Shelter for Migrant Children in the U.S., NPR (Feb. 13, 2019), https://www.npr.org/2019/02/13/694138106/inside-the-largest-and-most-controversial-shelter-for-migrant-children-in-the-u-.