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Guantanamo and GEO Group Ready for Haitians ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Tom Barry
Americas Program
Wednesday, Jan 20, 2010

The catastrophic earthquake that has devastated Haiti has sparked questions about immigration and deportation. In addition to the Obama administration's decisive response to the disaster with aid, it has suspended deportations to Haiti and is considering granting temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States without proper immigration documents.

Already, too, the government is considering options in the event of increased illegal immigration from the stricken country.

"Guantanamo is going to be an enormously valuable asset as we go through this," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Thursday. "[Guantanamo] is in the vicinity. ... So we're identifying all of the assets in the region that we can use in order to stage operations."

Not only can the military at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and at the associated terrorist detention center GITMO provide logistical support as part of the assistance efforts, but the facility is also a possible location to house a post-earthquake wave of attempted immigration.

At the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station there's a Homeland Security detention center waiting for Haitians and other Caribbean islanders who are caught while seeking to reach U.S. shores. On this parcel of Cuba occupied by the U.S. Navy and infamous for the GITMO terrorist detention center, the Migrant Operations Center (MOC) is intended for immigrants caught at sea without U.S. entry documents.

The U.S. military has operated a base surrounding Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for more than a century.

But as Tom Head, a civil rights blogger with About.com, points out, "It has only been over the past several decades that it has become notorious for the detention of foreign nationals."

According to "The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility: A Short History," this center functioned as the federal government's outlying detention center in the 1990s for immigrants who had attempted illegal entry by way of the Caribbean:

  • 1991-1993: Camp Bulkeley Used to Detain HIV-Positive Haitian Refugees.

    Human rights activists were outraged when 310 HIV-positive Haitian immigrants were segregated from other refugees following the 1991 Haitian coup and imprisoned in Camp Bulkeley at Guantanamo, a crowded and unsanitary detention camp. They were finally released in 1993 after an international campaign.
  • 1996: Operation Marathon Focuses on Undocumented Chinese Migrants.

    Guantanamo's detention facilities have historically been used to house refugees and other undocumented immigrants captured on the high seas. Under 1996's Operation Marathon anti-smuggling initiative, Guantanamo detention facilities were used to house an estimated 120 Chinese migrants who had attempted to illegally migrate to the United States by sea.
  • 1997: Operation Present Haven Focuses on Undocumented Guyanese Migrants.

    Guantanamo was also used to house Guyanese migrants who had attempted to reach the United States by sea.

.he devastation caused by the recent earthquake may spur many Haitians to attempt a highly risky sea crossing to escape the misery of their country. At the U.S. naval facility and prison complex at Guantanamo Bay, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a near-empty detention center—called the Migration Operations Center (MOC)—that could serve as the center for U.S. detention and processing efforts in the Caribbean.

In the past, this center has served has a holding facility to prevent unwanted Haitian and other migrants from entering the United States. Today, under a contract with DHS it is operated by Geo Group, a private prison corporation that relies on federal government detention/prison contracts for about 40% of its revenues.

In 2003, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, MOC was upgraded and its operation transferred from the department's own Immigration and Customs Enforcement to GEO Group, the country's second largest private prison firm. In part because of the special international standing of the Guantanamo Bay military base, which one official called "the legal equivalent to outer space," the State Department is cosponsor of the MOC contract.

According to GEO, it manages and operates a detention center with 130 beds but which "can house up to 500 detainees in the event of a surge." According to the contract, "This dynamic population may consist of single adult males and females, unaccompanied male and female juveniles, and family groups of various nationalities and security levels."

Under the terms of the contract, which was renewed for a five-year period in November 2006, "GEO is responsible for providing all staff, supplies, and equipment to manage and operate the center."

The 2003 contract was arranged, according to GEO, "at the emergency request of ICE in 2003" and offered the company "a unique opportunity." Since responding positively to that emergency request, GEO says that it has "been successfully working with ICE in this unique environment and has developed professional working relationships with all of the federal agencies involved in the operation of the MOC."

There are close working relations between the controversial GITMO detention center, which President Obama has promised to close, and MOC, if for no other reasons than their proximity and isolation. Phone calls to MOC are passed through the Naval Station's switchboard, and GEO seeks staff from the military and support personnel at GITMO.

Closely related to the DHS initiative that put GEO Group in charge of the MOC in Guatanamo Bay is the DHS $385 million contract in 2006 with a KBR, subsidiary of Halliburton, to build temporary immigration detention centers in the event of immigration emergencies.

The 2006 contract with KBR represented an extension of a 2000 contract, under which KBR would build detention centers with a 5,000 detainee capacity for the Army Corps of Engineers.

According to an ICE spokesperson Jamie Zuieback, KBR would build the centers only in an emergency, like the one when thousands of Cubans floated on rafts to the United States. She emphasized that the centers might never be built if such an emergency did not arise.

"It's the type of contract that could be used in some kind of mass migration," Ms. Zuieback said.

Americas Program

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