Holding on to Profit: Private Detention Centers and the Immigration Debate

Hector Salamanca Arroyo on August 24, 2015

Corporations are influencing the debate on humane immigration reform, driving federal policy and elected officials with the amount of lobbying done to secure a financial gain in immigrant enforcement and focusing on securing contracts to manage immigrant detention centers. 

When it comes to immigration reform, the focus is usually on politicians and constituents who want to see policy change, with the narrow scope leaving out a major player in the immigration reform debate: the corporations that profit from lucrative government contracts to detain immigrants.

What the constituents and to some degree the politicians fail to realize is the massive amount of lobbying done by corporations who own for-profit prisons running immigrant detention centers.  According to PAYOFF How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota – a report done by Grassroots Leadership – CCA and GEO Group dominate the immigration detention industry and have great financial interest in blocking human immigration reform.

“Together, they operate eight of the ten largest immigrant detention centers,” according to the report. “GEO and CCA combined operate 72 percent of the privately contracted ICE immigrant detention beds.”

The immigrant detention mandate is a byproduct of the lobbying done by corporations like CCA and GEO. Introduced into the DHS Appropriations Act of 2010, this “bed quota” has remained a critical part of the immigrant enforcement strategy. The mandate currently dictates that 34,000 immigrants must be detained each day, thus increasing the demand for the construction and management of detention centers.

It’s imperative that the presidential candidates be aware of this detention mandate – its origins and how it’s still being driven by corporate interests. AFSC’s Governing Under the Influence project aims to bring this to their attention – and the attention of voters and media.

Over the past couple of months, volunteer and staff “Bird Dogs” with Governing Under the Influence have asked presidential candidates what will they do to curb corporations driving federal policy like the immigrant detention mandate; presidential candidates have had to come to terms on how best to answer the question. Some have gone from ignorance about issue to full support of AFSC’s position that this mandate must end.

Even when a question can’t be asked about the detention mandate, there is still an opportunity to understand what the candidate has in mind regarding immigration reform the role corporations may play. As GUI-Iowa volunteer Patti Mckee stated after attending a Scott Walker event, “His comments were straightforward. He stated he would build and staff a wall along the whole border with Mexico.”

Walker’s comment lifts up another aspect worth exploring in regards to Governing Under the Influence: private corporations profiting from building barriers and high-tech devices along the southern border.

To read report click below: