In 2014, the two largest for-profit prison corporations—Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group—brought in more than $3 billion in revenue, including nearly $478 million for locking up immigrants. For that, you can thank Congress’ immigrant detention quota - a controversial mandatory minimum that requires 34,000 immigrants be detained at all times.
Our report, released today, demonstrates that private prison corporations have benefited handsomely from this quota and invested their profits in lobbying contributions to ensure their interests are met.
The report reveals a double digit increase in privatization of the immigrant detention system since the creation of the quota in 2009, and extensive lobbying by private prisons on immigration policy and appropriations to the tune of more than $11 million.
Top executives at CCA and GEO, companies financed by tax dollars, are lavishly over-paid. CCA President and Chief Executive Officer, Damon Hininger rang in at a whopping $3,666,117 for 2014, up from $3,282,460 in 2013. GEO CEO and founder George Zoley’s annual compensation in 2014 was even more astronomical, at $4,316,797. To top it all off, a portion of the taxes they pay on that compensation go back to feed the bottom line of their companies. Pretty sweet deal, huh?
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has had difficulty meeting these numbers, and has called for a decrease or elimination of the quota. One can only imagine the $11 million in lobbying has gone a long way toward keeping Congress in check.
The system of immigrant detention is incredibly harmful to families and communities.
Take the story of Naz and Hope Mustakim of Waco, Texas. After Naz had gone through rehabilitation for a drug offense, was cooperating with his parole officer, had a job, had become a community leader, and was newly married, he was one day plucked from his life by ICE officers. The couple had no idea that his green card had been revoked with his plea bargain. Hope nearly had to drop out of college to afford the legal fees, and Naz was unable to carry out a new project at his job where he was a supervisor and had recently hired an entire team of people.
Stories like this are not uncommon, and yet much of the rhetoric we hear around immigrant detention is based in unfounded fear.
President Obama couldn’t be left out—his new family detention program is also hugely lucrative for private prison corporations over and above the immigrant detention quota.
The same companies are being paid an average of $343 per day for each mother and child detained at new facilities in South Texas for asylum seeking families. Some families have been detained for more than 10 months. The cost per person to taxpayers is colossal, while refugee families face prison-like conditions. Imagine what these families could do with a fraction of that money outside of detention.
There are a number of proven community-based alternatives to detention that ensure people show up for their hearings but don’t rely on prisons. These programs are also exponentially cheaper than warehousing immigrants into detention facilities, and allow a bit of humanity into our immigration process by keeping families together.
The only beneficiaries of the quota—and this massive system of immigrant detention—are private prison corporations.
We, the taxpayers, are financing the quota, which amounts to an insurance policy for these corporations against any major decline in immigrant detention.
The movement within Congress to end the quota is picking up steam, after 62 Representatives recently signed a letter calling for the abolition of the quota. Representative Adam Smith also published this op-ed urging ICE not to renew GEO’s contract for Northwest Detention Center (up on April 23) and urging an end the quota. These common sense voices are realizing what advocates have long stated: With so many alternatives, why continue to spend our public resources to feed an industry that profits off human misery?