NBC News reported on Monday (October 21) that the largest pension fund in the United States, California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) is divesting from GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two main for-profit prisons that run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) migrant detention facilities.
CalPERS is just the latest pension fund to make such a move. According to NBC, in November 2018 the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) pulled more than $13 million in investments from the publicly traded prison firms. Bank of America and Wells Fargo also cut financial ties with private prison companies that maintain contracts with ICE.
“California public employees took a stand and made their voices heard after learning that their retirement savings were propping up the very companies that have played a critical role in the migrant abuse crisis, as well as mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Emily Claire Goldman, founder and director of the ESG Transparency Initiative, whose Educators for Migrant Justice campaign pushed CalPERS to divest.
Megan White, a spokesperson for CalPERS, however, insists the group wasn’t moved to divest $10.8 million for political reasons, but for financial ones.
“Ben Meng, our CIO, told the Board in January when he started that he would conduct a comprehensive review of our investments and investment strategy,” said White. “That included a review of benchmarks and indices, as well as an analysis of investments and strategies. Ben's key focus is on risk mitigation; his goal is to assess what is adding value to the fund, consistent with CalPERS’ investment beliefs, and helping CalPERS achieve its 7 percent target return.”
Meanwhile, the California Faculty Association, which met with CalPERS on Friday (October 18), released a statement to NBC emphasizing its political take on the matter. “Our union was not going to stand by and watch our pension dollars support these terrible corporations, and we’re pleased to see that CalPERS investment analysts have come to the conclusion,” the statement read.
A spokesperson from GEO Group told NBC that the company is being misrepresented. "The divestment efforts against our company are based on a false narrative and a deliberate mischaracterization of our role as a long-standing government services provider,” the statement began. “We have been a trusted service provider to the federal government for over three decades, under Democratic and Republican administrations, and in that time, we have never played a role in setting policy, nor have we ever advocated for or against immigration enforcement policies.”
As Colorlines reported in July, GEO Group and Core Civic faced several lawsuits for alleged human rights violations. GEO Group faced even more controversy when one of the company’s top executives went to ICE to ask the agency, and therefore taxpayers, to cover its legal fees. ICE reportedly denied the request.