Deep in the South Texas scrub, the town of Dilley is home to a 2,400-bed family detention center. There’s a few of them in Texas – federal holding centers for immigrant mothers and children, many of whom have fled violence in Central America.
The Correction Corporation of America (CCA) runs the complex, and it’s being compensated handsomely for the work. The federal government awarded the company a $1 billion contract to operate the Dilley facility.
The feds skipped the normal bidding process, and the company gets paid no matter how many people it houses. Chico Harlan, a reporter for the Washington Post, says that the contract is unlike others the government makes for operating these facilities.
“Normally it is based on how many people are in the beds – heads in the beds,” Harlan says. These companies – CCA being the largest – obsesses about how many beds are filled.”
However, in Dilley, CCA is getting paid the same amount regardless of capacity.
“For the facility in Dilley, they get paid a block total from the government no matter how many people are there, even if it’s almost empty,” Harlan says.
That’s a lot of money, especially when the facility isn’t full.
“Somebody told me … (they) basically said it would be cheaper for the government to put these people in the Ritz Carlton,” Harlan says. “There was a point in January reportedly when fewer than 100 people reportedly were in Dilley. And if you do the math, the going rate at that point for each person per night was about $6,500.”
In a more typical scenario, Harlan says, the government is paying closer to $580 per person per bed. But another part of the deal that’s raising eyebrows is that it was a no-bid contract. They were scrambling to build the facility in the midst of the surge of immigrant mothers and children arriving in 2014.
“So they were acting really quickly, they wanted this thing built in a matter of months,” Harlan says. “They figured that by incorporating a bidding process, that would be an unpalatable delay.”
Now, Immigrations and Custom Enforcement wants a better deal, which could spell trouble for the company.
“It’s almost dangerous for the company, because so many of their eggs are in this one basket,” Harlan says. “They’re going to be in some pretty serious pain if either the Obama administration or succeeding administrant can open a new detention center elsewhere with a better deal – which is one thing in the works.”
Post by Alexandra Hart.