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Is Your State Pension or Retirement Plan Complicit in Migrant Abuse?

What would I have done? Would I have stood up to the fascist regimes as they rose to power?

We’ve all asked ourselves this question when faced with the horrifying truth that everyday citizens in Nazi Germany stood by in silence as their neighbors, colleagues, and friends were forced into cattle cars, bound for concentration camps and gas chambers.

The parallels between the Trump administration and 1930s Germany are alarming. In a recent article in Newsweek, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect noted that “1930s Germany imposed a series of escalating steps of oppression, including demonization, discrimination and isolation of vulnerable communities, that evoke what we are seeing today. That comparison is just, and not to make the comparison would be a dereliction of our duty to ensure 'never again' to any people.”

Our responsibility to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself goes far beyond this, however, and understanding how each of us can fight back against the administration’s cruel immigration policies is as simple as following the money. With little transparency and accountability in the financial world, it’s hard to know where our investment returns are coming from. That is to say, what corporate activities are driving up the value of our portfolio?

The horrible reality is that public state pension funds and retirement plans in twenty states have more than $2.5 billion invested in “just” four companies – General Dynamics, United Rentals, CoreCivic, and GEO Group – that are providing essential support for the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy, including the concentration camps and detention centers where migrants have allegedly been tortured.

⋙ Here’s what we know thus far about each company’s role in this nightmare: 

CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group are the largest for-profit prison companies in the country; CoreCivic’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas and GEO Group’s Karnes Center in Kansas City, Texas are the largest family detention centers in the US and the vast majority of detainees at both facilities are seeking asylum.1 Parents desperately seeking information on their children’s whereabouts have been presented with the option of either pursuing their asylum claim or being reunited with their child. 

Plaintiffs in six federal lawsuits have alleged forced labor and other abuses in immigration detention facilities owned by CoreCivic and GEO Group, including threats of solitary confinement; revocation of family visitation rights; and withholding of water, food and medication which detainees could only afford by working for the respective company. According to independent medical experts, CoreCivic and GEO Group’s practices have contributed to the deaths of numerous detainees, and advocacy groups continue to voice concerns over medical neglect, sexual assault, and horrifically unsanitary conditions at the companies’ migrant detention centers. A recent report by DHS’ internal watchdog concluded that ICE detention facilities, including those operated by CoreCivic and GEO Group, are not subject to rigorous oversight and therefore are not held accountable for substandard conditions; this conclusion is all the more alarming given that Trump’s executive order provides for indefinite family detention.

While much of the media’s attention has pivoted to the issue of family detention in light of the ACLU’s successful battle for a nationwide injunction on family separation, the practice of of separating children from their parents at the border continues. This comes as no surprise given that a week after Trump signed the executive order “reversing” the family separation policy, HHS officials refused to answer questions about reports that children were still being separated at the border. The vast majority of children (nearly 3000) and parents originally detained under the Zero Tolerance policy have yet to be reunited; and the administration failed to meet the court order to reunite all detained migrant children under five by July 10th, with records showing that fewer than half of the identified children were reunited by the court’s deadline. To make matters worse, administration officials have stated that they view placing migrant children in foster care as an equivalent to reuniting them with their actual families. 

General Dynamics, a US defense contractor, is currently under contract with the Department of Health and Human Services for “cadre and infrastructure services for shelter care for unaccompanied children – training and technical assistance service area” at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in Florida, where children who have been forcibly separated from their parents under the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy are being detained. ž The welfare of these children is now in the hands of a company that specializes in missile defense systems and combat vehicles. United Rentals appears to be providing rental equipment and infrastructure for the children’s detention facility in Homestead, Florida and allegedly the tent city in Tornillo, Texas as well. In a recent statement from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, experts concluded that placing immigrant children in detention facilities may, in and of itself, amount to torture. To make matters worse, the Homestead detention facility for migrant children is technically located on federal land, thereby exempting it from state child welfare inspections.

That’s right, public state funds in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin are aiding and abetting these crimes against humanity.2

⋙ So, what can you do to change this? 

The US Department of Homeland Security has indicated that the lack of resources, including building facilities, is one of the main reasons they have stopped separating families. By providing the very resources the administration depends on to commit such egregious human rights abuses against migrants, CoreCivic, GEO Group, General Dynamics, and United Rentals have played a crucial role in this nightmare; and they can reasonably be expected to continue doing so, absent sufficient pressure from their investors. To put that in legal terms, these four companies are aiding and abetting human rights abuses that qualify as crimes against humanity under international law. Continuing to invest in these companies with knowledge of their role in migrant abuse makes pension funds complicit.

⋙ The Strategy 

For CoreCivic and GEO Group: divestment

EXPECT PUSHBACK – investors tend to resist calls to divest on the grounds that divesting means that they won’t have a place at the table to push companies to change their behavior. This argument doesn’t hold for companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group, whose for-profit prison business model – where the company has a financial incentive to incarcerate as many people as possible – is inherently irreconcilable with the concept of corporate social responsibility. No amount of pressure from investors can persuade a company to abandon its business model. Shareholder pressure can be leveraged to elect new board members or call attention to issues to change internal policy, but divestment is the only appropriate course of action for companies with a demonstrated history of systemic human rights abuses, like CoreCivic and GEO Group. Divesting from these two companies poses no threat to pension fund returns; CoreCivic and GEO Group’s share prices have skyrocketed as a direct result of the administration’s migrant abuse policy, and this makes it the ideal time to cash out and invest those earnings in a company whose long-term profitability isn’t threatened by unsustainable corporate conduct. 

For General Dynamics and United Rentals: pressure companies to end their operational support for the detention of migrant children and asylum-seekers

The detention of migrant children and asylum-seekers constitutes a tiny fraction of General Dynamics and United Rentals’ overall business activities. General Dynamics and United Rentals provide material support for concentration camps in Homestead, Florida and [allegedly] Tornillo, Texas where children rendered unaccompanied by the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy are detained; these children must be reunited with their families as mandated by the court order. Keeping the facility open enables the administration’s detention of innocent children, including 46 children under five who will never be reunited with their families. With the court-ordered deadline for reunification of all detained migrant children separated under the Zero Tolerance policy less than one week away, fewer than 15% of detained migrant children have been reunited with their families. 

Financial complicity in these horrific abuses isn’t an option, nor should it be. Investing in your future shouldn’t come at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society. We have the power of $2.5 billion behind us - let’s use it to demand an end to corporate human rights abuses! 

 

WAYS TO TAKE ACTION

Check the spreadsheet to see if your pension fund or retirement plan is listed. If it is:

  • Pick up the phone and call the phone number provided. 

    • State which union you’re a member of and repeat the asks in bold (above) for the respective companies. Read my statement to the CalSTRS board for inspiration.

    • Explain why you care. 

    • If they respond by saying that they’re already looking into it, ask for specifics: Which companies are they looking it? What are they specifically asking the companies to do (immediate asks and long term goal)? 

    • We want to see concrete action and follow up!

  • Share this information with your colleagues and wider network! We know people are looking for ways to get involved and want to play an active role in ending migrant abuse, they just need the information.

  • Tweet about this on Twitter or post on Facebook with the hashtags #EndConcentrationCampProfiteering #Educators4MigrantJustice and #TBATs

  • Help us build a wider coalition! We have a letter template for people to sign on to and read or deliver directly to their respective state fund board members.

Read the article from the Sac Bee about the campaign in California. 

Emily Claire Goldman is an international human rights advocate specializing in corporate accountability, corporate social responsibility and responsible investing. Follow her on Twitter @mle_goldman for updates.