Unlike the better-known Krome Detention Center west of Miami, which accepts violent offenders and career criminals, the Broward lockup is reserved for immigrants who committed no crime or whose offenses are nonviolent. It also can house recent arrivals seeking asylum or residency.
In incarcerating foreigners who pose no threat to national security or public safety, human rights advocates charge, the Obama administration is violating its policy announced in 2011 to focus immigration enforcement efforts on suspected terrorists, violent criminals, repeat offenders and gang members.
"ICE's use of discretion has been limited so far, and resources are still used to detain and deport aspiring citizens who pose no risk," the National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group, said in an August report.
The Washington-based organization argues that billions of federal tax dollars could be saved if the government locked up fewer illegal immigrants with no history of committing violent acts, and let them petition for legal status while remaining free in their jobs and with their families under "humane" forms of monitoring, such as electronic ankle-bracelets.
But some in Congress oppose the Obama administration's revised enforcement policies, likening them to backdoor amnesty programs.
"The best way to help immigration detainees is not to roll out the welcome mat at detention facilities. It is, reduce the amount of time they spend in detention by making better use of the tools Congress has provided to process illegal immigrants for removal more expeditiously," then-U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, a California Republican, said in March at a House subcommittee hearing titled "Holiday on ICE," a reference to detention facility standards some lawmakers view as too cushy.
Savings for taxpayers
At the Broward Transitional Center, GEO is paid $112 per day for each of the first 500 individuals housed, and $6.42 for every person in addition to that, according to Moore. Neither ICE nor GEO would provide the Sun Sentinel with a copy of the company's government contract.
Moore said those daily rates are a savings to the taxpayer, as the average cost nationwide to house a detainee is $120 per day.
GEO has no role in deciding who to hold or for how long, Moore and others stressed. Those decisions are the purview of law enforcement, federal immigration officials and judges.
But the firm has a vested interest in having a steady supply of illegal immigrants to house.
In its annual financial report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in March, GEO noted that demand for its detention services "could be adversely affected" by the relaxation of U.S. immigration laws or more lenient deportation practices.
"Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level … could materially adversely impact us," the statement notes.
The company employs lobbyists in Florida and other states and before Congress and contributes large sums to election campaigns.
The nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics estimates that between 2003 and 2012, GEO and its subsidiaries and employees gave more than $3 million to state elections nationwide.
The National Immigration Forum, in its August report, noted that the Obama White House continues to ask Congress for billions of dollars to pay for the detaining of foreigners, despite its pledge to focus immigration enforcement efforts on the suspects deemed dangerous.
"Many of these detention dollars flow to enormous private prison corporations that stand to reap significant profits when more and more immigrants are detained," the report states.
"Not a punitive place"
Complaints from detainees and their lawyers about BTC focus on claims of substandard medical care, prolonged stays, detainees' depression, unappetizing food and insufficient legal representation.
"It's bad," Juan Pablo Alvarez Castaneda, a 21-year-old who spent five months at BTC, said in an interview. "For me it was like a year. The days go slow, slow."