AUSTIN, Texas — A private prison company announced Thursday it has won a $110-million federal contract to build in Texas the first new immigrant detention center under the Trump administration.
The GEO Group said that its 1,000-bed detention facility will be in Conroe, north of Houston, and will open by the end of next year. The facility coincides with President Donald Trump’s promised expansion of immigration detention, part of a larger crackdown on immigrants in the country illegally that includes detaining people seeking asylum while they go through immigration proceedings.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement already has a record of more than 41,000 detainees.
The agency has also identified an additional 21,000 unused beds that it plans to use for detention, according to a memo reported Wednesday by the Washington Post. That memo notes that “ICE will be unable to secure additional detention capacity until funding has been identified.”
GEO, ICE’s second-largest private prison contractor, has approximately 3,000 empty beds nationwide, according to a February investor call.
Faced with a lack of funds and potentially thousands of empty beds, ICE’s move to secure a new contract with GEO surprised immigrant rights advocates.
“This is totally unprecedented,” said Silky Shaw, Co-Director of Detention Watch Network, a Washington-based nonprofit fighting to end immigrant detention. “Even the most recent expansion we’ve seen has been county jails and repurposing facilities that have been shuttered.”
Trump has instructed ICE to detain all individuals suspected of violating immigration laws.