It turns out Evan Low has company. The openly gay California Assemblymember who took $4,200 from the private prison ICE contractor GEO Group in 2016 wasn’t alone.
Half of California’s California’s Legislative LGBT Caucus has taken money from ICE private prison contractors.
Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (39th District) took $4,200 from GEO Group last year and another $4,000 from Northrop Grumman, whose ICE contracts since 2006 have totaled more than $88 million.
Assemblymember Susan Eggman (13th District) took $1,000 from CoreCivic, which was the subject of a jaw-dropping undercover investigation by Mother Jones two years ago. On Thursday, ICE officials announced that Efrain De La Rosa, a Mexican man facing deportation in a CoreCivic detention center in Georgia, died of an apparent suicide. In California, the ACLU settled a lawsuit with ICE and CoreCivic (under its former name Corrections Corporation of America) in 2010 over the company’s alleged failure to provide adequate healthcare to 11 detainees.
GEO Group’s checkered history includes a laundry list of human rights abuse allegations. It currently operates California’s Adelanto ICE Processing Center, where Gay Nigerian asylum-seeker Udoka Nweke remains incarcerated despite reports that he is suicidal.
Three people died at Adelanto last year, according to statements released by ICE. One of them, Nicaraguan Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, hanged himself in his cell in last March.
In 2015, more than two dozen members of Congress pressed federal officials to investigate GEO’s oversight of Adelanto in a joint letter. The letter cited two inmate deaths reportedly caused by lack of medical care, and it pointed to the hospitalization of a paralyzed 19-year-old whose catheters were recycled, causing him an infection.
GEO Group has cut checks to candidates in state and national elections for years, including hundreds of thousands put toward the presidency of Donald Trump, Newsweek reported.
GEO Group did not respond to a request to comment.
Northrop Grumman is one of the world’s largest defense and aerospace companies. Its tens of millions in ICE contracts are largely for IT and information services.
Both Gloria and Atkins donated money to immigrant rights organizations recently because of the private prison money, their campaigns say.
Atkins’ campaign released a statement acknowledging the contribution. Last week, she donated $12,000 to organizations involved in immigration justice issues to offset her take from GEO Group.
“The Senate Leader Atkins never personally solicited these contributions nor have those contributions ever in any way affected her votes or her values,” the statement reads.
Atkins donated $3,000 each to the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Alliance San Diego, the Casa Cornelia Law Center and the ABA Immigration Justice Project of San Diego. INTO has confirmed the donations with each organization.
Alliance San Diego, which organizes around immigration rights, noted that Atkins is in fact a longtime supporter and has donated to the organization for years.
Doug Case, political affairs director for Atkins, said the senator made the most recent donations after a Change.org petition took San Diego Democrats to task for taking money from CoreCivic and protests sprung up in response to the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the border last month.
“That’s when the issue first came to our attention,” he said.
Gloria dumped the GEO contribution into immigration nonprofits, according to campaign manager Nick Serrano. Serrano says Gloria donated $750 each to Pillars of the Community and The Partnership Advancement for New Americans. He did not respond to a follow-up inquiry on the Northrop contribution.
“There’s a number of ways that people can contribute to political campaigns,” said Serrano. “Assemblymember Gloria has been focused on his work in the legislature. Campaigning is certainly a part of that, but it’s certainly not what his day-to-day focus is.”
Serrano said Gloria would not be accepting further funds from private prison groups.
Pressed on when Gloria ditched the funds, Serrano told INTO that Gloria made the donation in response to the Families Belong Together March on June 30.
“After that march, the direction to his campaign team was to look into any of those donations that came in because he does not want that money in his coffers,” Serrano said.
Documentation provided by Serrano shows that the campaign cut checks on July 9.
Assemblymember Eggman’s campaign, contacted via two different phone numbers and by email, did not respond to a request to comment.
Low’s team also remains mum on the issue despite multiple requests to comment. INTO again reached out to campaign staffer Gina Frisby via an email his legislative office provided, but received no response.
On Wednesday, seven members of the white ally organization Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) confronted Low’s field representative Cassie Mancini during a pre-arranged meeting, according to organizer Lauren Renaud.
“She said she didn’t know about the story,” said Renaud. “That is what she told us.”
Renaud said another SURJ member pressed Mancini on the issue, stating that Low should be conscientious of his campaign contributions. Renaud said the conversation was left unresolved, as Mancini vowed to get back to them with more information.
Low’s legislative office did not respond to a request to comment on the meeting.
Together, the four legislators make up half of the eight who sit on the California Legislative LGBT Caucus.