Immigration and the Private Prison Industry

The Trump administration’s hard line on illegal immigration undoubtedly inspires fear, and even panic, in immigrants who attempt to enter the United States without legal permission. However, it has also inspired and greatly benefitted private investors who capitalize on these immigrants by signing million-dollar contracts with the government to provide a range of services, from detention centers and monitoring devices to private jets for deportation purposes. Immigration is a big industry.

Many people think that the detention of these immigrants at the border is carried out solely by government agencies, but it is largely carried out by private companies providing hugely profitable services, such as the allocation of high-interest loans for detainees who are released on bail, health services, first aid, food and money transfers from abroad.

Prestigious companies want a piece of the action. Employees of the technology giant Microsoft have complained publicly about the relationship the company has with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, while a subsidiary of the news agency Thomson Reuters won a $6.8 million contract with the government to help find and arrest criminals who pose a threat to the public.

The activity of private detention centers managed by two companies, CoreCivic and The GEO Group, stands out in particular. For these companies, the increase in caravans of immigrants setting out from Central America is extremely advantageous.

Their stocks rose by 137% and 98% respectively one month after Donald Trump took office. These companies are in charge of the detention centers where those seeking asylum await their interviews. Immigrants who have been released from these centers report ill treatment, inedible food, a lack of concern toward detainees who are unwell and general brutality.

It is estimated that, in the last few months, at least 12,800 of the children and adolescents who have arrived at the border unaccompanied have been detained in close to 100 of these government-funded private centers, which are situated all over the country and concentrated in the areas along the border with Mexico. Now that this is a well-established business, there are plans to open new centers of a similar nature from Texas all the way up to Minnesota. It is estimated that, each year, at least half a million immigrants are detained for long periods − an estimated 100,000 were detained this month alone − and that the majority of them end up in these centers.

When countless people who cross the border illegally are detained and immediately deported, the law must provide protection and shelter for families, unaccompanied minors and all those who claim to have reason to seek asylum.

The current zero-tolerance policy has forced the Department of Justice to press criminal charges against all those who enter the country without a visa. Consequently, there is a need for more detention centers, which explains the economic success of private prisons, where an estimated 75% of immigrants detained by ICE are sent.

During the Obama administration, they were detained and then released with an ankle monitor while they waited for their court date. This was a policy known internationally as “catch and release.” This cost the government $4 a day per immigrant, whereas detention incurs approximately $100 worth of municipal prison expenses per day. Sending immigrants to private prisons is estimated to cost the government $150 a day per person, including children.

No one knows exactly what detained immigrants receive for this amount, which is paid by the Treasury, because private companies are not required to exercise the same level of transparency as the government. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to know exactly what goes on inside these centers. What we do know is that these centers employ fewer guards and spend nothing on training them. Medical services and hygiene facilities are limited, and minors rarely receive any type of schooling.

Lawmakers who have attempted to make unannounced visits to these detention centers have been denied access. Visitation requests must be made two weeks in advance. In the meantime, according to the report given to shareholders, the profits that immigrants are generating for this flourishing industry are the biggest of the last 10 years.

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