Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) speaks at a pro-immigration rally in San Diego in February 2015. / Photo by Liam Dillon

Back in June, Rep. Juan Vargas was not pleased to be accused of accepting donations from a private prison company while serving as a state senator, so he made a stunner of a pledge.

The progressive website San Diego Free Press reported that Vargas faced blowback at a Keep Families Together rally on June 23 and responded. “After Vargas denied ever receiving contributions from any of those companies, activist Mark Lane whipped out his cell phone with a screen proving otherwise, to the tune of $3,000, right after Vargas said he’d make a charitable donation equal to ten times the amount if any could be proved. There is no word on who’s getting the $30,000 yet.”

Now, Tim Walsh, Vargas’ chief of staff and campaign manager, told VOSD that the congressman in July donated $15,000 in campaign funds to Border Angels, which provides support to immigrants, and $15,000 to the Immigration Justice Project, which provides legal services. Walsh said he wouldn’t immediately be able to provide copies of the checks to those groups.

Other local legislators have been on the hot seat because they accepted campaign donations from private prison companies. Vargas stands out because he denied getting any donations from private prison companies at all. Campaign finance records reveal he received $1,000 from Corrections Corporation of America, now known as CoreCivic, for his state senator campaign fund in 2010 and a $2,000 donation in 2012.

Progressives despise the companies, in part because they are housing immigrants who are being detained by the Trump administration. Two companies, CoreCivic and Geo Group, were expected to benefit big-time according to the Wall Street Journal. The CoreCivic CEO told the Journal, “this is probably the most robust kind of sales environment we’ve seen in probably 10 years.”

CoreCivic runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, where immigrants stay as they wait for court hearings. It’s the only detention center in California that’s allowed to expand, and it’s planning major expansions in the coming years as the uptick in detentions is expected to continue, as Maya Srikrishnan reported earlier this year.

This post originally appeared in the Aug. 11 Politics Report.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at and follow him on Twitter:

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