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Boca Raton-Based Private Prison Company And Activists Start War Of Words

Daniel Rivero
Protestors rally against ICE in Miami.

Boca Raton-based private prison company GEO Group has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Miami-based activist group Dream Defenders, sparking a sharply worded response from the activist group. 

In a letter dated August 3, the company accused the activists of defamation and of spreading false information about the company. It says that it might take further legal action if necessary.

“GEO’s facilities have become a target of very harmful behavior that Dream Defenders is advocating,” wrote the company. “In recent weeks, large groups have damaged GEO’s property, hindered GEO’s ability to fulfill its obligations of providing safe and secure transport of detained individuals, and threatened the lives of employees within GEO facilities.”

The activist group has organized protests against the company in the past, and last month helped convince the Florida Democratic Party to stop accepting political donations from the company. Members of the group have confronted politicians like Ashley Moody, who is running for Florida Attorney General, who have accepted donations from the company. The group had planned a nationwide protest against the company on Tuesday, August 7.

It is not clear what specific threats or harmful behavior the company alluded to in its letter.

The letter, issued by legal firm Holland and Knight on behalf of GEO Group, says that the company “reserves all rights to pursue immediate legal action to protect itself, its employees, and the individuals entrusted in its care from harm, and to recover monetary damages incurred as a result of Dream Defenders’ actions.”

Specifically the letter says the activists have issued “blatantly false” statements suggesting that the company “separates” families, puts children in “cages,” that the company incarcerates "Black, Latino and poor White people” and that the company exerts “undue influence” over the political system.

GEO Group operates private prisons for the federal and state governments, as well as facilities that are used to detain immigrants prior to deportation.

According to recent reports, GEO Group makes more money in federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts than any other company in the nation. The company’s deep involvement in the immigration system is one of the reasons it has been singled out by activists.

“Your business niche is locking people up,” reads the Dream Defenders’ response. “No amount of legal rhetoric will make that a lie. The opinions we’ve expressed about your corporation are supported by the lived experiences of people locked behind your bars, news coverage, academic research, local and federal reporting systems and your own website.”

Included in the response letter was a bullet-pointed rebuttal of GEO Group’s allegations that Dream Defenders has lobbed “blatantly false” accusations against it. Dream Defenders posted both letters online on Monday.

The Dream Defenders says that a nationwide protest against the company that is planned for Tuesday, August 7 will continue as planned.

"Threatening us with lawsuits won’t stop us from exposing the truth about what the GEO Group and other Dream Killers are doing to our communities," the group writes in its response letter. "Groups around the country are gearing up to stand against you this week. You’ll need more than flimsy legal maneuvers to stop us."

Attempts to reach the activist group were not successful.

In a written statement to WLRN, GEO Group responded to the Dream Defenders’ rebuttal.

“Their allegations are outrageous and based on malicious lies about our company and our role as a long-standing service provider to the government,” reads the statement. “As they have publicly acknowledged, their attacks on our company and our employees are nothing but a deliberate attempt to advance a controversial public policy agenda aimed at abolishing ICE, and they willfully ignore the fact that our company plays absolutely no role in passing immigration laws or setting immigration policies nor have we ever advocated for or against any immigration laws or policies.”

The company has spent millions of dollars lobbying the federal government over the last decade, according to federal records. However, some of its filings specify that it does not “take a position on immigration enforcement policies or detention policies.”

“Our top priority is ensuring the safety of our employees and those in our care, and we will take all necessary legal actions to prevent deliberate attempts to create disruption and incite violence against our employees and facilities,” the company said.

On an earnings call last week, GEO Group estimated that it would have revenues reaching $2.3 billion in 2018.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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