Immigrant Justice Corps appears to have an impeccable pedigree. Its board consists of the Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Robert A. Katzmann, Former Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morganthau, and former non-profit star Deborah Winshel, who in 2013 was anointed one of the 50 most powerful women in New York.
But then everything falls apart. Winshel also wears the hat of Global Director of Blackstone Investment Group’s impact investment division. BlackRock is the majority owner of the GEO Group (over 10 percent of shares worth over $350 million), a private prison corporation that incarcerates refugee babies and children at the Karnes County Family Jail in South Texas Blackrock also owns over $300 million worth of shares in the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the South Texas Family Jail in Dilley, Texas. The Department of Homeland Security, GEO, and CCA have and continue to commit crimes, even torture, against thousands of children. Some of those victims are our clients.
One adorable girl, who is now 5 years old, was locked up with her mother in solitary confinement for 9 consecutive days while suffering from untreated pneumonia and severe decay in all of her teeth. Instead of releasing the child to her family’s home to recover, she was locked up in a small cell to writhe in pain for virtually every waking minute for 9 days.
She was tortured so that the Obama administration could remove her to deter others like her and her mom from coming in the future and so that Blackrock could earn a return on its near billion dollar investment in detention and deportation business. To corporations like Blackrock, a 5 year old baby’s health and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments did not exist to GEO or CCA. In fact, it’s almost like Blackrock does not recognize her existence at all.
A 4-year-old boy and his 19-year-old mom, Lilian, cower in hiding in Honduras after ICE subjected them to torture for 6 days and then deported them with in secret in the dead of night without a the slightest sliver of due process. Lilian and her boy were jailed for 8 months. They were never given the chance to apply for their strongest defense: special immigrant juvenile status. When she could no longer bear to watch her fail to thrive due to malnutrition and depression arising from the conditions of the jail, she tried to save her son by killing herself.
Even in this desperate act, she was just another number to be discarded back to her home country at any cost. ICE and GEO tortured Lilian for 5 days in retaliation for her attempt to kill herself. Instead of providing her with medical care as she was entitled to under the law, ICE stripped her naked, forced her into a straitjacket, threw her into a freezing solitary confinement cell, and watched her suffer as she begged over and over again to see her son.
No one knows what happened to Christian in those 5 days. He was left alone in a secure jail with no one to care for him but men and women whose job it was to deport him. But Ms. Winshel’s employer made a profit.
These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Every child in who has been jailed in these facilities suffered extraordinary harm. So why does an organization that purports to stand for justice for immigrants have a board member who is a prominent director for a corporation that profits handsomely off crimes against children?
In total, Blackrock owns over $700 million worth of shares between CCA and GEO. Blackrock profits off of injustice against the most vulnerable immigrants. Children. Babies. Toddlers. And the mothers who risked everything to save them.
The conflict of interest is not just academic. Our office’s advocacy has included calls for the prosecution of CCA officials responsible for crimes committed against children in family detention. We will continue to demand that individuals who knowingly engaged in conduct that deprived children of their fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution, or constituted child abuse, be criminally prosecuted. The victims deserve no less.
What would happen if an Immigrant Justice Corp Fellow represents a child who was jailed in family detention? Can that fellow aggressively pursue a U-visa for that child arising from criminal investigation against officials in CCA or GEO? Will the fellow be pressured to not call for the end of family detention because one of his employer’s board members stands to lose on its investment?
Even if not directly applicable to the attorney’s representation of immigrant clients, the specter of such despicable corporations on its board will likely create a culture that favors the corporation’s interests at the expense of the client.
There is a real and direct conflict of interest at Immigrant Justice Corps. The board member has vested interests in the success of Blackrock, which in turn has a vested interest in detaining some of the same immigrants that the nonprofit Corps will represent.
If the distinguished Robert A. Katzmann and Robert Morgenthau really care about immigrant justice, they should demand that Blackrock divest its holdings in GEO and CCA or make a donation to of $700,000,000 for pro bono counsel on the ground in Dilley and Karnes.
Otherwise, they will have the blood of children on their hands.