The private prison operator GEO Group is suing Washington for closing the immigration detention center
GEO Group says Washington state is trying to unconstitutionally override the federal government’s powers to enforce immigration laws.
GEO Group is suing Washington state, claiming a new law that would shut down the private prison society’s immigration facility in Tacoma to unconstitutionally undermine federal agency.
According to the Seattle Times, the law passed by Washington lawmakers last March may affect a contract signed between the GEO Group and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service.
The lawsuit also alleges that the closure of GEO’s Tacoma facility could undermine the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration laws.
“This transparent attempt by the state to end the federal government’s detention efforts within Washington’s borders is a direct attack on the supremacy of federal law and cannot be endured,” wrote GEO attorneys in the lawsuit filed earlier this week in the U.S. District Court in West Washington.
The GEO Group is applying for an injunction against the termination of the contract to close the Tacoma facility in September.
The Seattle Times notes that the GEO Group-operated Northwest ICE Processing Center has been widely criticized for mistreating undocumented immigrants. Correctional officers employed by GEO have allegedly denied migrants adequate food and medical care and used solitary confinement as a punishment for minor offenses.
Prison bars. Image via MaxPixel / Public Domain.
Additionally, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed his own lawsuit against GEO Group, accusing him of violating the state’s minimum wage laws by paying inmates $ 1 a day to work at the Northwest ICE Processing Center .
Ferguson has since said that he plans to vigorously defend the law of the state.
“GEO’s lawsuit is part of its efforts to avoid any accountability of Washington State even though GEO has chosen to do business there,” Ferguson said in a statement.
The law, The Associated Press added, bans most types of privately operated prisons and prisons in Washington. In practice, however, this only applies to the GEO Group’s Tacoma system.
However, the law allows existing contracts to run their course. In 2015, GEO signed an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that included an option to extend its service until March 2026.
After Washington legislature introduced the private prisons bill in January, GEO and ICE changed their contract, removed the extension option, and agreed to continue operations through September 2025.
However, it is not yet clear which contract will be used to decide the closure of the Tacoma facility: the contract that was signed in 2015 or the extension that was approved in January.
The Associated Press notes that the district court may have to wait for the 9th circuit appeals court to rule on a similar case filed in California. Oral arguments are expected to take place in June, when a judge tries GEO’s case against California law that bans most private prison societies from operating facilities in the state.
However, US District Judge Janis Sanmartino has largely ruled against GEO. In October, for example, Sanmartino found that California law does not override or bypass federal agency when it prohibits the enactment or renewal of certain types of contracts.
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