Alaska Native corp refutes ICE Detention Center inaccuracies: We are not a tribe

The Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website.

Vincent Schilling

The Daily Beast reported on Ahtna, Inc. as a “Native American tribe” - Ahnta responded with a list of inaccuracies

An Alaska Native corporation is in the middle of a national debate about immigration and border enforcement.

The issue stems from President Donald J. Trump’s zero tolerance order at the border and that has put a new focus on ICE, formally known as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. This is a new federal agency, created in 2003, to step up law enforcement at the border, including prosecution for immigration violations.

ICE operates detention centers where immigrants are held until they can be brought before a judge. One of those centers, the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, has been the focus of news stories about the separation of children from the parents by ICE.

This is where the Ahtna, Inc., comes into the story. Ahtna is one of the 13 Alaska Native Corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Its business includes federal contracts to a subsidiary to operate detention centers.

Reporters across the country have been pouring through the records looking for companies that profit off of ICE. It's a big list of tech companies, universities, and accounting firms.

The Daily Beast reported on a “Native American tribe” on this list, Ahtna, Inc.

The story said: “The Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, is currently holding many of the parents who have been separated from their kids. But while PIDC is owned by ICE, its guards are provided by a subsidiary of Ahtna, Inc., a portfolio of businesses operated by the Ahtna, a federally recognized Alaska Native people.

Ahtna, Inc. is one of a number of companiesprofiting off of the deportation of undocumented immigrants from the United States.”

The Daily Beast cited a National Congress of American Indians resolution objecting to federal immigration policy saying the Trump administration’s “forced separation of immigrant children from their families” was “simply immoral” and a reminder of “a dark period for many Native American families.”

Ahtna issued its own release to say the story was far more complicated. “The Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, has been in the news lately in connection with the ongoing national discussion regarding U.S. immigration policies. Ahtna Support and Training Services has a contract to provide detention center services at Ft. Isabel, and a recent story by The Daily Beast contained several inaccuracies and misrepresentations about our management of this facility. We wanted to take a moment to clarify a few key facts – and address how the core values of our corporation with regard to respect, safety, quality and integrity guide every aspect of the important work we do at Port Isabel Detention Center.”

In the article by The Daily Beast, contributors Justin Rohrlich and Adam Rawnsley cite Ahtna, Inc. as “one of a number of companies profiting off of the deportation of undocumented immigrants from the United States.”

According to an an Associated Press analysis, there is no question that companies that profit off of immigration detention. Detaining immigrant children and their parents is an industry in the U.S. that now earns $1 billion annually. This is a tenfold increase over the past decade.

Ahtna has been operating immigration detention centers for ICE since 2002 and have been staffing and training guards at the Port Isabel Detention Center, which can hold up to 1,200 detainees.

According to The Daily Beast, mother’s in prison jumpsuits have expressed sadness and worry about being separated from their children. The Daily Beast also made multiple claims that guards have been committing unwanted sexual advances, sexual acts and assaults and groping. Some of the guards have received punishments to include serving time in prison.

The Daily Beast also reports Ahtna will earn a guaranteed minimum of $800 million over the life of the contract, which has an option to run through 2022 and that Ahtna itself is a Native tribe.

The ICE detention center fits the corporation’s ongoing business profile. The subsidiary Ahtna Support and Training Services, LLC, until recently said on its web site that it had extensive “detention services, security screening, transportation, food services, operations and maintenance and facility management ATSI has extensive detention center and security guard experience from managing several U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immigration detention facilities.”

In a public response from Ahtna, Inc., the corporation completely refutes the Daily Beast article maintaining they take great care in training detention facility guards, and that their contract a gross amount not the earnings the article claims. Nor is Ahtna, Inc. a Native tribe, but an Alaska Native corporation.

On the Ahtna Facebook page, several comment on the wishing the organization would not be involved in such practices as ICE detention. Ophelia Bunns wrote in the comments: “Cut ties! Why be a cog in this machine?”

Part of the Ahtna, Inc. statement, which refutes the claims, reads as follows:

Our detention officers are trained to be compassionate to everyone at PIDC. Our employees are taught to understand that detainees who arrive at PIDC are going through a challenging experience – and our employees take great strides to support them through this difficult process. PIDC detention officers are instructed to comply with the guidelines set forth by the American Correctional Association and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Performance Based National Detention Standards. And our detention officers diligently manage the needs of detainees during their stay at PIDC to ensure they are treated with kindness and respect. Our detention officers also know that anyone who violates AhtnaSTS’ strict codes of conduct will be held accountable and subject to criminal prosecution.

Our PIDC contract is not worth $800 million. This, too, was misstated by The Daily Beast. What’s more, the story conveyed the misimpression that AhtnaSTS is the sole beneficiary of the entire contract sum. The reality is AhtnaSTS receives only a tiny fraction of the overall award value, as the vast majority is paid out to support and maintain PIDC facility operations.

We are not a Tribe. The Daily Beast story mischaracterizes this as well. Ahtna, Inc. is an Alaska Native Corporation established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and is not a federally recognized Tribe.

Ahtna, Inc. closes their public statement with the following:

“As an Alaska Native and shareholder-owned corporation, Ahtna constantly seeks to enhance the overall wellbeing of our shareholders through employment, educational opportunities, monetary dividends, and other benefits. Government contracting provides a vital role in our ability to provide these benefits and the provision of vital shareholder services and programs aimed at preserving our culture, developing our resources, protecting our land, enhancing the lives of our people, and maintaining our cultural identity.”

“Our mission is to provide responsible economic growth for future generations of Ahtna people. The work we do at the Port Isabel Detention Center helps support this worthy endeavor. We will continue our commitment to deliver high quality services all of our clients have come to expect from Ahtna’s family of companies, so that we may continue to return strong value to our shareholders moving forward.”

The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter -@VinceSchilling


Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Please understand, my comment comes from deep seated anger with my relatives, and is my opinion alone, and in no way reflects other Alaskan Natives what so ever, it simply comes from my beliefs and life experience.

I am Alaskan Native, and proud to be Inupiat. I find this disgusting - Alaskan Natives profiting of the incarceration of our brothers and sisters, Indigenous folks from other countries. I should not be surprised. I personally know Alaskan Natives who vote conservative republican, and who are proud christians who almost ignore their Alaskan Native dna/blood/heritage because they are embarrassed because relatives have indoctrinated them into believing that Indigenous folks are less than unless they look, act, talk, walk white christian, who want to build a wall, who voted for the 45th president. I know because they are my relatives, which is why I have NOTHING to do with those relatives and will not call them family.

Dude seriously, this infuriates me in so many different ways, mostly the fact that an Alaskan Native Corporation, with Alaskan Native Shareholders, even has detention officer training and contracts to make more of them. Those of us who are Indigenous need to stand together, not profit off each others' pain and suffering. My Alaskan Native Corporation had better NOT being doing this!!!! I am going to look that up right now.