Meet the private prison industry’s lobbyists who could shape immigration reform

In the last two years, major private prison companies Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group have spent at least $4,350,000 on lobbying the federal government, primarily to win immigration-related contracts.  What does that kind of money buy you?  Some pretty lucrative contracts, apparently.  In 2011, the federal government paid $1.4 billion to the two corporations, nearly a third of their total profits.

In fact, a 2011 report by Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network found that private prison corporations operate nearly half of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention beds.  What's more, private prison corporations are benefiting greatly from the criminalization of migration through programs like Operation Streamline.  

It’s no surprise – or secret – that immigration reform which reduces detentions and deportations would be a threat to private prison corporations' business.  Business Insider reported on February 2nd that in 2011, GEO Group CEO George Zoley told investors:

"At the federal level, initiatives related to border enforcement and immigration detention with an emphasis on criminal alien populations as well as the consolidation of existing detainee populations have continued to create demand for larger-scale, cost efficient facilities."

That same year, CCA stated in its annual earnings report that immigration reform

“could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."

So who are these wealthy private prison corporations looking to to win them immigration detention contracts?   Below the jump are just some of the some the major lobbyists for private prison interests in Washington:

1. Bart Velhulst, Jeremy Wiley, and Kelli Cheever, CCA’s in-house lobbyists, were paid $1,070,000 in 2011 and $980,000 in 2012.  They lobbied on the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, particularly on “provisions related to ICE detention; as well as the House of Representatives and the Senate on homeland security issues related to the private prison industry.

2. Lionel Aguirre, the well-connected Texan we’ve profiled before, earned $360,000 in 2011-2012 peddling GEO Group to the Department of Homeland Security, ICE, the United States Marshalls, and the House of Representatives.  In 2011, he also lobbied the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice.

3. Christopher Cox, Kyle Kizzier, and Danielle Burr (of lobbying firm Navigators Global, LLC) were paid $220,000 by GEO (2011-2012) to represent their interests in appropriations for DHS and ICE, specifically on “Issues Related to Alternatives to Detention.”  ICE’s budget for detention is $2 billion – 28 times larger than their budget for Alternatives to Detention.  But GEO has interests in both hard detention and "alternatives" after it purchased electronic monitoring company BI Incorporated.  Cox’s ties in DC (as the former special assistant on legislative affairs to George Bush and chief of staff for two House Representatives) probably don't hurt.

4. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld; McBee Strategic Consulting, LLC; Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti Inc; and Sisco Consulting, LLC round out the list of CCA’s DC spenders.  They don’t come cheap, either: CCA shelled out $1,730,000 for their services (2011-2012).  The four firms spent most of their time (and money) on the House and the Senate, but also paid visits to the US Marshals, the Department of Justice, and the State Department.  Some of their interests include “the construction and management of private prisons and detention facilities;” “monitor[ing] immigration reform;” and “provisions related to ICE detention.”

Lobbying disclosure information from the Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.


I am making a documentary using the power of life and leadership coaching based on training we have done in two federal prisons. I want to interview US representatives who are in favor of prison reform...who would you suggest?