In a social media post that has now been shared more than 96,000 times, an adjunct professor at Furman University outlines an argument on the profitability of migrant detention facilities and how for-profit companies could be benefitting from overcrowding.
The conditions in migrant detention centers have dominated headlines for several months since President Donald Trump announced a “zero tolerance” policy in May on immigrants illegally crossing the border, as well as those seeking asylum.
The Trump administration’s policy to separate families and place children in detainment centers has largely been decried by organizations and public figures across the country.
“This is not a political statement about immigration policy. This is a statement about human decency, plain and simple. This is a plea for recognition that these are not simply the children of strangers for whom others are accountable. This is an appeal to elevate the inalienable right of all children to feel safe and to have the opportunity to become their best selves,” Kent Johnson, CEO of Highlights for Children, said in a statement on June 25.
On the same day as the statement from the Highlights for Children CEO, Emily Price, who teaches strategic design at Furman, posed questions on Facebook looking into one detention center operator in south Florida. The post now has more than 36,000 likes, more than 96,000 shares, and more than 19,000 comments.
The Miami Herald reported in May that the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children in south Florida is the only for-profit migrant detention center in the United States. The center is operated by Comprehensive Health Services — a subsidiary of Caliburn International, a company that primarily contracts with the federal government.
The Homestead center receives $775 per youth per day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“So where is this money going, you wonder, if not to soap and toothbrushes? Yeah, I did too, and it was quite easy to dig up. CHS, via Caliburn, is controlled by the private equity firm DC Capital Partners,” Price said in the post.
While the Homestead center hasn’t specifically been called out for not providing toothbrushes and soap to detained children — like a border station in Clint, Texas — it has come under scrutiny for severe overcrowding and for keeping children longer than its intended temporary use.
But the heart of Price’s post is the string of companies profiting from the detention center, and the former government officials tied to them — in May, Trump’s former chief of staff retired Marine Gen. John Kelly joined Caliburn’s board of directors.
“Why would you know that there’s overcrowding and that they can’t really function with this overcrowding and this influx — they can’t process all these people — why would you then go balls to the wall with proactively rounding up more people?” Price said to the Greenville Journal.
A large investor in Caliburn includes a private equity investment firm — DC Capital Partners — whose board of advisors consists of eight former high-level government officials, such as retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as the former director of the National Security Agency.
“Last month, the same month Kelly got his new gig, the government awarded CHS a brand new, hush-hush contract worth $341 million, even though there had been tons of pressure to close it due to its conditions,” Price said in the post.
The Miami Herald reported on the deal in May, saying Comprehensive Health Services was awarded the $341 million contract without a bidding process because of an “unusual and compelling urgency.”
Comprehensive Health Services has come under fire for mishandling a government contract in the past — in 2017, the company agreed to pay $3.8 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit for double-charging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for its services.
A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice said Comprehensive Health Services “knowingly double-charged the United States for vision screenings, resting electrocardiograms, and for the collection of blood specimens provided to IRS agents.”
“The fact that people in this country make money off of when we’re at war or having this issue at the border — making money off of turmoil — I think that is questionable. It just opens the door for a lot of corruption,” Price said.
When Price initially made the post on Facebook, it was private. It received hundreds of responses from her friends before she decided to make it public, but Price said she didn’t anticipate the post to get as much attention as it did.
“I was just laying the dots out there, like, ‘OK, all of these things are very clearly connected, and this is questionable, all of it — here are the dots,'” Price said.
Along with shedding light on the possibly corrupt ways private government contractors could benefit from overcrowded facilities, she hopes the post will bring more attention to the overarching issue of private companies receiving public money.
“This is just one symptom to a problem that has other symptoms,” Price said.