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5/12: How US Private Prisons Profit from Immigrant Detention (3)
Released 13 June 2015  By Melanie Diaz and Timothy Keen - Research Associates at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

How US Private Prisons Profit from Immigrant Detention

(....Continue from Part 2)

In an effort to ensure that profits from contract conditions are maintained or increased, PPCs have been strategically targeting members of Congress who are in committees that deal with immigration reform. For example, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a member of the Senate Sub-Committee on Homeland Security and has received $27,300 USD in contributions from the second largest prison corporation, the GEO Group.[l] Another example is Arizona Senator John McCain who received $32,146 USD from CCA, and has since introduced legislation appropriating greater funds for immigration detentions through Operation Streamline (2005).[li] Both McCain and Rubio are also members of the “Gang of Eight,” a bi-partisan group of eight senators who spearheaded the Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) in 2013. PPCs have spent more than $200,000 USD on political contributions and lobbying to “gang-of-eight” members.[lii] Consequently, greater appropriations to the DHS will result in the agency having to find a way to spend that money for that particular year. Increased congressional appropriations to ICE increase the potential for ICE to contract with private prisons. In effect, this pattern can cause greater detainment of undocumented immigrants. In fact, this year’s DHS appropriations act saw an increase of $400 million USD compared to the fiscal year of 2014, and includes amendments that limit President Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration and requires the DHS to enforce current immigration laws.[liii] In 2014, lobbyists from CCA issued six reports lobbying for the passing of the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2015, specifically in regards to funding for the Bureau of Prisons, the Immigration and Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. Marshalls.[liv] In addition, 2014 saw the GEO Group’s 28 reports of lobbying in the following sectors: homeland security and the Immigration and Law Enforcement.[lv] Despite this evidence, however, GEO Group Vice President of Corporate Relations, Pablo Paez, states that the “GEO Group has never directly or indirectly lobbied to influence immigration policy.”[lvi][lvii]

Costs to the American Taxpayer
By far, the most dominant justification for pursuing public-private partnerships with prison corporations is that it saves the state taxpayers’ money, and at face-value it may seem to be true.[lviii] ICE, which is funded by government taxes, outsources management of prison facilities to the private industry thus transferring costs over to private corporations and not the taxpayers. If only this was the true reality. Put simply, the more Congress succumbs to the private prison industry’s lobbying efforts to funnel more money into the DHS, the more prison populations have increased. And, alas, the taxpayer pays the ultimate costs as increased numbers of detainees eventually drive up taxpayer expenditures.

Today, reports indicate that the United States incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants per day, costing taxpayers $2 million USD annually.[lix] Every individual detainee costs around $159 taxpayer dollars per day, according to a report by the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy organization.[lx] Furthermore, the aforementioned bed quota has additionally attributed to hikes in costs to the taxpayer in recent times.[lxi] For example, the third largest for-profit prison corporation, Management and Corp., threatened to sue the State because the contractual condition for the occupancy quota was not fulfilled, claiming the depreciation of inmates resulted in a $10 million USD loss in profits.[lxii] After a series of negotiations, state officials and prison corporate representatives agreed that the State would pay a total of $3 million USD in fines for empty bed fees.[lxiii] This is but one example of how governmental institutions submit to the interests of the powerful for-profit prison industry, costing Congress its legitimacy and taxpayers their hard-earned money.

Failing Policies and Alternatives
With harsher immigration policies and higher rates of immigrant detention, Washington has hoped to deter migrants from coming to the United States. According to the International Detention Coalition, “detention does not deter irregular migrants,” which explains the surge of 51,000 unaccompanied child migrants from Mexico and Central America that arrived to the United States between October 2013 and June 2014.[lxiv] In essence, “prevention through deterrence” has been proven not to work and instead has created other issues, such as unreported human rights abuses in PPCs, more deaths due to new and more dangerous routes into the United States, and increased likelihood of permanent residency for undocumented people. According to a 2014 ACLU report, BOP still had not responded to FOIA requests about oversight within PPCs, causing alarm at the number of human abuse cases that may go unrecorded in these facilities.[lxv] In relation to the increased number of immigrant deaths, Wayne Cornelius, Director of CCIS, has reported that between 1995 and 2004, over 2,460 migrants died on their way to the United States as “the probability of dying versus being apprehended by the Border Patrol has doubled since 1998.”[lxvi] Lastly, in light of stricter anti-immigration policies, undocumented people are now more likely to permanently reside in the United States, since the increasing cost of crossing the border has made cyclical immigration patterns less likely due to immigrants’ fears of being unable to return to the United States after their first arrival. [lxvii]Obviously, current U.S. border policies have a negative impact on migration issues, and given this, Congress has a responsibility to start fixing the failing U.S. immigration policies.

To combat the uncontrolled power of PPCs, the Government must begin increasing means for PPCs’ transparency. The Puente Human Rights Movement also recommends that the Government open an independent office dedicated to monitoring the actions of PPCs and ensuring that they are held accountable for any human rights violations.[lxviii] Furthermore, since taxpayer dollars go into the government agency contracts given to PPCs, the ACLU advocates for Congress to amend the FOIA legislation to apply to PPCs so that the public will have access to the information on what they are funding and that transparency within this industry is heightened.

On a brighter note, alternatives to detention do exist. In a House Report by the 112th Congress, it was stated that enrollments in alternatives to detention (ATDs), such as parole or monitoring programs, are as low as $7 USD a day, which is a great financial bargain when compared to the detention costs averaging $159 USD per day.[lxix] It is obvious that costly endeavors to pass anti-immigration policies and deter immigrants with the horror of detention centers are not having the intended effect of limiting immigration. Instead, these tactics are creating more immigrant residency, more immigrant deaths, and more human rights abuses in PPCs, which are gaining enormous annual profits. As another and more progressive alternative to detention, Congress could also consider expanding on development programs in Latin America in order to provide people, including refugees, with alternatives to emigration. Although this will take a longer time to prove successful, it could have the long-lasting impact that Washington is currently aiming for, but without the cost of more immigrant lives.

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