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Biometric immigrant tracking proposals could boost GEO, CoreCivic, or evaporate

Biometric immigrant tracking proposals could boost GEO, CoreCivic, or evaporate

A request for information published by the U.S. federal government has raised the profile of biometric surveillance of undocumented immigrants, but neither the monitoring nor the private-prison industries appear to think much will come of it soon.

In public statements, two major industry players are submitting information for the August request, and they both sound like they would compete hammer and tongs for it.

Yet one of the companies, CoreCivic, seems to have dedicated no real estate on its site to biometric products it makes or uses.

In fact, it is not obvious what electronics it is using when it comes to would-be immigrants who the government judge safe and reliable enough to set free until their cases are decided. And very little of the site hints at CoreCivic‘s appetite for immigration contracts generally.

During an analysts call during the fourth quarter executives were putting no stakes in the ground when it came to fitting people with biometrics.

It was all: Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still figuring things out. The timing’s not definitive. Kind of a 2025 opportunity.

The other firm, GEO Group, is aggressively developing monitoring and surveilling capabilities and finds itself the focus of several recent news stories about what it put in the field.

Even so, in discussing their third-quarter financial performance with industry analysts, executives were cautious about the upside of another immigration contract.

Both firms, which make up the majority of the federal-private prison market, have housed tens of thousands of undocumented people.

Programs like the Alternatives to Detention have been around for 20 years and began with promises to show up at hearings. Today, people can be shackled with a locked GPS bracelet, mobile phones and even watches, which are supplied by GEO Group subsidiary BI Incorporated.

The phones and watches use facial recognition algorithms to make sure the right person is where the devices’ signals are showing up on a map.

An appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security that has passed the House of Representatives would apply Alternatives to Detention monitoring with GPS devices to all 5.7 million immigrants awaiting court cases. The proposal has stalled in the Senate, however.

Both companies note that it’s an RFI being discussed, not a request for proposal. There’s plenty of time for the idea to evaporate.

Also, federal spending has been used for scoring political points for so long now, the brinksmanship has reached another razor-sharp edge. The budget is an ephemeral concept.

Worse, House of Representative Republicans do not want to give the Democratic-held White House a victory of any kind.

More concrete, executives say the population of people eligible for a detention alternative has plateaued recently. Both GEO and CoreCivics are heavy with debt and given the choice to focus on what they know – prisons – and a new, small market that’s not growing, it’s likely that shareholders will favor the latter.

One investor on GEO’s call, however, noted that contracts for immigrant monitoring can return margins of near 50 percent, and that the changes could potentially give earnings a significant boost.

GEO executives have said they’ve been able to offset declines in their electronic monitoring and supervision services segment throughout 2023 with growth and revenue from other segments.

They are expecting enrollment in ICE’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program, which manages remote biometric systems among asylum seekers to remain flat or even soften.

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