CIVIC, which stands for Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, is a national non-profit with a mission to end U.S. immigration detention, particularly privately-run detention facilities. In October, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) announced that it would be changing its name to CoreCIVIC in violation of CIVIC’s common-law trademark rights in the word mark CIVIC.
CIVIC is well-known to CCA. CIVIC has spoken out publicly against CCA on multiple occasions. CIVIC raised concerns about sexual abuse of immigrants detained at a CCA facility in San Diego. CIVIC drafted and co-sponsored legislation in California to end private immigration detention contracting in the state. And CIVIC advocated for the Department of Homeland Security to shift away from private immigration detention contracting, which they voted to do earlier this month.
“It is shocking that CCA would steal our name in what can only be construed as an effort to create undue confusion for immigrants in detention and exploit the goodwill associated with our name,” says Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.
All of the people CIVIC serves are immigrants, and many have limited English skills. Most are trying to navigate the detention system and complex immigration laws without legal counsel.
“There is an irony to the fact that a corporation in the business of running private prisons chooses to re-brand itself with the trademark of one of its most active critics and watchdogs. Whatever the motive, however, the new name is likely to result in confusion among the clients, supporters and regulators who already know the good work of CIVIC in the field of prisoner services and prison reform,” says Jonathan Kirsch, pro bono trademark counsel for CIVIC.
This is not the first time CCA has hijacked key phrases in the immigrant rights movement. Facing growing criticism from the public and the government, CCA and other private prison companies have invested in “alternatives to detention,” a term advocates have long used to refer to community-based programs that ensure immigrants are released from detention to the community and provided with the support they need to best fight their immigration case. CCA misappropriated this term, redefining it to mean lucrative programs that tag people with ankle monitors and burden them with excessive reporting requirements.
“We will not allow CCA to usurp our name or confuse immigrants in detention with this underhanded move to profit from our good work. CCA must stop using our trademark,” says Christina Mansfield, co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.
CCA’s CEO said that the company is changing its name to “give them access to new markets in states like California that have previously resisted private-prison firms.” CIVIC is headquartered in California.
CIVIC is the national immigration detention visitation network, which is working to end U.S. immigration detention by monitoring human rights abuses, elevating stories, building community-based alternatives to detention, and advocating for system change. www.endisolation.org
CIVIC has retained the Law Offices of Jonathan Kirsch and Kendall Brill & Kelly in this matter.