U.S. incarcerating more undocumented immigrants than ever, and private prisons are helping
A woman in Florida rallies against private prisons earlier this year.
By EMILY DERUY
The U.S. is incarcerating more undocumented immigrants than ever before and the country’s largest private prison firms are benefiting.
Private prison firms have spent more than $45 million lobbying lawmakers, mostly Republicans, and contributing to campaigns over the last 10 years, according to the Associated Press. That money, which comes largely from three firms that dominate the industry, seems to have increased their presence in incarcerations. Their share of detention beds has gone from about 10 percent to almost half.
The cost to taxpayers for locking up the 400,000 immigrants detained, according to the AP, is likely to top $2 billion. And the government is planning for new facilities which will generate more profits for the firms, meaning the lobbying is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
The expansion is especially notable because the U.S. has actually seen a decrease in illegal immigration. It’s also concerning, because as the AP points out, there is little federal oversight of the private facilities, and federal officials have acknowledged that the privatization isn’t actually the most cost-effective option.
Corrections Corporation of America, one of the big three firms, told the AP it does not lobby to influence policy that determines the basis for a person’s detention or incarceration, but immigration advocates are skeptical. The company was near bankruptcy in 2000, but bounced back thanks in part to rising immigrant detention. According to the AP, federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues last year.
President Obama has requested less detention money this year and encouraged the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to look for alternatives to incarceration. His recent announcement that some undocumented youth will be allowed to stay in the country could also reduce the number of people behind bars.
According to the AP, the private firms are also making money locking up non-citizens who commit federal crimes, like repeatedly entering the country without papers. A decade ago, about 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons. That number is now more than 23,000.