Companies argue against proposal not to house separated kids

ADDS TO CLARIFY THAT COMPANIES ARE OPPOSING SHAREHOLDER VOTE ON PROPOSAL - FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2018, file photo, the striped shadow of the U.S. border wall falls on a migrant family as they walk on U.S. soil near Imperial Beach, Calif., after squeezing through a small hole under the border wall aided by two local guides, seen from Tijuana, Mexico. The nation's two largest private detention companies don't want a shareholder vote on resolutions that would prevent them from housing immigrant children separated from their parents, even though both companies say that is not something they currently do. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An activist shareholder wants to pre-emptively block the nation's two largest private detention companies from housing immigrant children separated from their parents, but the companies don't want the proposal to go to a vote.

Tennessee-based CoreCivic and Florida-based GEO Group both say they have no intention of housing separated immigrant children or their parents, but the companies are fighting an attempt to require them to adopt policies to that effect.

Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center, has submitted shareholder resolutions on the subject for a vote at the companies' annual meetings. Both companies have asked the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to exclude the resolutions from shareholders packets sent ahead of their annual meetings, meaning there would be no vote.

After a global uproar last summer, President Trump scrapped his administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.

But in an interview Tuesday, Friedmann said that even though the policy of family separation is "over for the moment, we have somebody in the Oval Office who changes his mind on a regular basis." He added that family separations still happen under certain circumstances.

In letters to the SEC, the companies raise several objections to the shareholder resolutions, which they said were vague, misleading and impossible to implement.

The companies also argue that they already have substantially complied with the resolutions.

CoreCivic spokesman Steve Owen said in an interview Tuesday that not only does the company not currently house immigrant children separated from their parents but "we have no plans to do that in the future."

GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez also said his company does not house unaccompanied minors and has no intention to house them in the future.

In an emailed statement, the company also said it "does not determine who is assigned to our care nor do we have any knowledge of their specific cases or circumstances."

CoreCivic argued in its letter to the SEC that Friedmann's proposal is so vague that it could apply to legal immigrants who are separated from their children when they are detained on suspicion of committing a crime unrelated to immigration. The company also argued against allowing Friedmann to clarify the resolution because only minor revisions are allowed.

Friedmann argued in supporting statements accompanying the resolutions that shareholders should adopt them because they would protect the companies from reputational damage and liability.

In an interview, he said, "if both companies have no intention of housing these kids they should have no problems adopting the resolution, or letting it go to a vote."

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