December 28, 2018
An exclusive report, posted by The Daily Beast on December 27, has found that, in 2018 alone, for-profit private prisons made nearly $1 billion on a new U.S. “industry”: the detention of migrants.
Underwritten by taxpayers and beset by problems, the third-party-operated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities are known for minimal oversight and what immigration advocates say uncomfortably resembles slave labor: Prisoners who choose to work rather than sit in overcrowded dormitories are paid $3 a day to work in the kitchen and as little as $1 a day to sweep floors.
Yesica, a 23-year-old who fled her native El Salvador to escape gang persecution and has spent the last two years locked up in the Joe Corley Detention Facility in southeast Texas, told the Daily Beast with the help of a translator, “This is a really terrible place. It’s inhumane. It’s like a torture chamber….I don’t breathe fresh air; haven’t been outside since I’ve been in here.”
Being in the U.S. illegally is a misdemeanor offense, and immigration detention is technically a civil matter; not a criminal process. But the reality looks much different. The Daily Beast reported that as of October 20, ICE was detaining an average of 44,631 people every day—an all-time high. Now, ICE has told the online news outlet that its latest detention numbers are even higher: 44,892 people as of December 8. Its budget request for the current fiscal year anticipates detaining 52,000 people daily.
Yesica’s employer and jailer, the private prisons giant GEO Group, expects its earnings to grow to $2.3 billion this year, The Daily Beast notes, reporting that—like other private prison companies—GEO made large donations to President Donald Trump’s campaign and inauguration.
In 2004, GEO Group spent $120,000 on federal lobbying. By 2016, it was spending $1.2 million, The Daily Beast reports. Fellow private prisons giant CoreCivic spent nearly $10 million between 2008 and 2014 just to lobby the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls immigration-detention funding. Together, according to the Migration Policy Institute, the two corporations dished out a combined half-million dollars to Trump’s inauguration committee.
In essence, immigration advocates say, the detention corporations pay the president and his congressional allies.
What’s more, Mary Small of the Detention Watch Network told The Daily Beast, the public still lacks “incredibly basic information about immigration detention and how private prison companies are profiting from it.”
She added, “Even though billions of taxpayer dollars are being obligated to private prison companies, the contracts between them and the federal government aren’t publicly available, so we don’t know how much these companies are being paid, how many people they’re holding, or how long their contracts last. This culture of secrecy—bolstered by revolving door politics and political contributions—[has] paved the way for a rapid and reckless expansion of the detention system.”
The differences between for-profit immigration prisons and public immigration prisons are substantial, according to recent research by The American Immigration Council based on data from fiscal year 2015. One of the major findings: For-profit prisons “consistently and substantially” hold immigrants longer than public ones—about 87 days on average for people ultimately granted relief, versus 33.3 days in public prisons.
Fifteen of the 179 detainees who died in ICE custody between October 2003 and February 2018 were held at a single private immigration detention center, run by CoreCivic in Arizona, according to the Migration Policy Institute. At another privately run immigration detention jail, GEO Group’s Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, there were seven suicide attempts between December 2016 and October 2017 (and at least one success), The Daily Beast reports.
GEO Group did not respond to requests for comment.
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