As the Abolish ICE movement erupts again, private prison corporations that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain migrants are feeling the heat. GEO Group and CoreCivic, who together exert near duopolistic power over the private prison sector, have been hit by a wave of bank divestments. In the last few weeks, some of the industry’s leading lenders, Bank of America, SunTrust and BNP Paribas (parent company of Bank of the West) announced plans to cut ties with private prisons. They join JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, who agreed to cease further financing the companies in March 2019.
Before the week of action began, Bank of America divested, SunTrust divested on July 8, and Bank of the West followed suit on July 12.
The majority of immigrant detainees (about 70%) are imprisoned in detention centers operated by private prison companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group. These companies are structured as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), which makes them particularly reliant for financing on large financial institutions and vulnerable to credit loss. Stocks in the industry are dropping, with CoreCivic down 27% and GEO down 22% over the last month. As GEO leadership admitted in May, divestment jeopardizes the industry’s future.
The divestments have roughly correlated with a groundswell of rebellion. Large swathes of US society are recoiling in the face of the draconian xenophobia of the Trump administration, particularly after revelations detailing conditions endured by migrant children in mass detention. Never Again Action and Movimiento Cosecha have revived the disruptive spirit of Occupy ICE from a year ago, launching new rounds of blockades at detention centers, ICE Field Offices and the offices of political leaders.
In mid-June Block-the-Wall Network and Olympia Assembly called for a week of action against ICE profiteers from July 8 to July 12. Identifying private prisons as a weak link within the deportation and detention infrastructure, the call urged coordinated direct action to shut down bank branches of Bank of America, PNC Bank, SunTrust and Bank of the West. Before the week of action began, Bank of America divested, SunTrust divested on July 8, and Bank of the West followed suit on July 12. PNC remains invested as of this writing.
During the week, Bank of the West branches were shuttered on multiple occasions in Seattle and Portland, anarchists took action against PNC in NYC and Asheville. ICE-tech collaborators Microsoft, Amazon and Palantir all faced protests. Phone zaps were also organized against PNC and Bank of the West branches. Although much credit must be extended to longstanding divestment campaigners, the intervention of anti-authoritarians advancing an explicit direct action strategy into the movement could have served as the last straw for some financial firms.
Widespread and targeted disruption can also likely explain the failure of Trump’s promised mass ICE raids to materialize. Here, the sabotage of transportation infrastructure at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA by Willem Van Spronsen warrants specific mention, while the movement generally can be credited with producing a hostile environment for ICE and Border Patrol agents. The true tactical diversity – from blockades, sabotage and divestment to popular education, mass marches and mutual aid – of Abolish ICE has been its greatest strength. This fluid repertoire of action has permitted participation of various form and allowed Abolish ICE to evade capture by NGOs or the Democratic Party. Divestment has been but one crucial element of this movement.
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