Catching Immigrants for Profit

(Seattle Globalist/Flickr)

(Seattle Globalist/Flickr)

Earlier this month, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) released a report on documents it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act concerning the U.S. immigration detention system.

As Tory Johnson writes for Immigration Impact:

The newly revealed ICE contracts and inspections expose the lack of transparency, accountability, and consistency that govern the taxpayer-funded system that is responsible for detaining over 400,000 people each year. The U.S. has the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world, comprised of a complex network of more than 250 facilities that maintain an average of 34,000 detention beds every day. The annual cost to taxpayers is consistently more than $2 billion, yet information about how this money is used is incredibly difficult to obtain. The problem stems, in part, from the increasing privatization of immigrant detention, allowing corporations to use their private status to withhold information about funding allocations and detention standards from the public.

You might remember the story that surfaced back in July of the immigrants detained at a Denver facility who sued the company running the detention center. They were only paid $1 a day for janitorial work, and some revealed that prison officials threatened to throw them in solitary confinement if they didn’t do the work.


May Day immigration rally in Washington D.C. (takomabibelot/Flickr)

Then there were the immigrant women at a detention center near San Antonio who filed a complaint with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last year, saying they were sexually assaulted by guards. The women at Karnes County Residential Center told ICE that prison personnel regularly called the detained women their “novias” and used “their respective position and power over the highly vulnerable detained women … by requesting sexual favors … in exchange for money, promises of assistance with their pending immigration cases, and shelter when and if the women are released.”

“Karnes Center guards kiss[ed], fondl[ed] and/or grop[ed] female detainees in front of other detainees, including children,” the complaint stated.

According to this month’s NIJC report:

The thousands of pages of documents provide an unprecedented look into a failed system that lacks accountability, shields [the Department of Homeland Security] from public scrutiny, and allows local governments and private prison companies to brazenly maximize profits at the expense of basic human rights.

Private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group Inc., the company that runs the Denver detention center, have been trying to keep their operations under wraps while maximizing their profits. In its 2014 annual report to shareholders, CCA warned that:

The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

To make sure those changes never occur, CCA and GEO have pumped millions of dollars into political campaigns. Earlier this year, the Washington Post identified “Republican politicians in Florida, Tennessee, and border states with high populations of undocumented immigrants” as being the “biggest beneficiaries” of such donations. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has received nearly $40,000 from GEO, “making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company.”

In the end, no one should expect the for-profit prison system to operate any different, and as long as it does, we will continue seeing attempts to impose harsher immigration laws and tougher punishments for minor crimes.

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