GEO Group wins legal challenge to California private immigrant prisons

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(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday struck down California’s ban on privately-run immigrant detention centers, saying it gave the state too much control over how the federal government handles immigrant detainees.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with private prison operator GEO Group Inc and the administration of President Joe Biden in lawsuits challenging the 2019 ban.

A federal judge in San Diego had upheld the state law in 2020, saying California could ban private detention centers because federal law does not explicitly allow for them.

But the 9th Circuit in an 8-3 decision said the government has come to rely almost exclusively on detention centers operated by GEO Group and other companies. California, the largest U.S. state, does not have the authority to second-guess that decision, the court said.

While campaigning for the 2020 election Biden said he wanted to end the use of private detention centers to house immigrants awaiting deportation hearings.

But he did not mention them in a 2021 executive order requiring that private criminal detention centers be phased out, which drew criticism from immigrant advocates.