San Diego politicos and business types have been unsympathetic to president Donald Trump, but one major border enterprise that has been a big campaign provider to legislators of both parties here could be in line for a boost from the administration’s immigration crackdown.
Officially known as the Otay Mesa Detention Center, the 1482-bed facility on Calzada de La Fuente is operated by CoreCivic, formerly known as CCA — Corrections Corporation of America — for the U.S. government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of Homeland Security.
Last August, there was talk by the departing Obama administration of shifting detainees held by for-profit immigrant holding facilities back to those run by the federal government.
Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say Homeland Security should "stop using the for-profit detention facilities with the most notorious records of sexual abuse, detainee deaths, and denial of medical care. These facilities include the South Texas Detention Complex, Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego, Eloy Detention Facility in Arizona, and Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico."
Last spring, a series of Mother Jones stories written by a reporter who got a job as a guard inside CCA's Louisiana operation, found "conditions at the facility were deplorable. A poorly-trained staff lacked the support to respond to growing violence."
“Every guard that I worked with complained about the place,” reporter Shane Bauer told the Columbia Journalism Review.
“I was surprised by how chaotic it was. I saw people get stabbed right in front of me.”
The prison proprietor threatened legal action, said Bauer. "CCA’s counsel claimed I was bound by the company’s code of conduct, which states, ‘All employees must safeguard the company’s trade secrets and confidential information.’”
As criticism grew, Corrections Corporation of America issued a September 2 news release drawing attention to the company's 2014 Human Rights Policy Statement.
"We recognize the inherent dignity of the human person and the need to treat every individual with respect. As we have since our inception, we share the responsibility of our government partners when they entrust individuals to our care," says the document. "No person should ever be subjected to any cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."
In December, the Obama administration’s Homeland Security Advisory Council voted 17 to 5 for “a measured but deliberate shift away from the private prison model," per an account by The Intercept.
But the action was expected to do little or nothing to slow the department’s move to private operators, whose lobbyists contributed heavily to Trump's Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton until she vowed to stop accepting private prison money after the donation bundling was uncovered by The Intercept.
The Trump forces also reportedly got private prison cash.
"I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons," Trump said during a town-hall meeting moderated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews last March. "It seems to work a lot better."
Now comes the president's sweeping January 25 executive order on immigration.
"The Secretary shall take all appropriate action and allocate all legally available resources to immediately construct, operate, control, or establish contracts to construct, operate, or control facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico," says the order.
Specifics of possible effects on Otay Mesa are not yet known, though some believe that congressional action would be needed to appropriate sufficient cash to expand the border prison.
In addition to Trump and Clinton, San Diego politicos have also been beneficiaries of campaign largesse from Corrections Corporation of America and its executives.
Among top legislative recipients was Democratic state senator Toni Atkins, the former Assembly speaker, who received a total of $10,200 from 2011 to 2016, per data from the California secretary of state's office.
Republican assemblyman Brian Maienschein got $6000. Former assemblyman and current senator Ben Hueso collected $3000, and Assembly Democrat Lorena Gonzalez received $4000.
GOP assemblyman Rocky Chavez got $1000. Ex-assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, a Republican when he was in the legislature, received $2000, the figures show. Juan Vargas, now a Democratic member of congress, got $3000 when he was a member of the state senate.