New Report: Rise in For-Profit Detention Corresponds with Millions in Lobbying by Private Prisons

April 15, 2015

Congressman, faith leader, and formerly detained immigrants speak out about the harms of immigrant detention and call for an end to the controversial immigrant detention bed quota.

AUSTIN, TEXAS — A new report released today by Grassroots Leadership, a national social justice organization that works to end for-profit incarceration, examines the increasing seizure of the immigrant detention industry by for-profit prison corporations and their extensive lobbying of Congress to protect their bottom line. Since the creation of the immigrant detention bed quota in 2009, the immigrant detention industry has become 13 percent more privatized. Today, 62 percent of ICE immigrant detention beds are in facilities operated by private prison corporations and 9 of the 10 largest ICE immigrant detention facilities are operated by for-profit prison corporations.

Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota, written by Bethany Carson and Eleana Diaz, focuses on the lobbying of the two largest private prison corporations, CCA and GEO Group, which together made nearly $478 million in revenue from ICE immigrant detention in 2014.


Corporations like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America have reinvested their profits in Congress to the tune of more than $11 million of lobbying in quarters when they lobbied on immigration issues. Much of this lobbying was on the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee, the birthplace and point of control of the quota. The report also features the stories of four people formerly detained in private immigrant detention centers.

“The immigrant detention quota is taxpayer-financed insurance for private prison corporations that the government will maintain their bottom line at all costs. Now, we are seeing those same corporations invest millions in the Congressional committee that created that insurance policy for them,” explained Bethany Carson of Grassroots Leadership. “Congress’ vast immigrant detention system is tearing apart families and communities, and creating an enormous profit from human misery.”

Carson was joined by Rep. Adam Smith (WA-9) who spoke about his tour of Northwest Detention Center and Congressional efforts to end the immigrant detention quota. “Because of the immigrant detention bed quota, too many people are locked up for no good reason,” said Rep. Smith. “Individuals should be detained only in cases where the government has proved that no other method is feasible. In order to ensure this, Congress must repeal mandatory detention laws and defund appropriations quotas that require 34,000 daily beds and instead invest money into community-based alternatives.”

Other speakers included formerly detained immigrants, Marichuy Leal and Muhammad Nazry (Naz) Mustakim. Marichuy Leal, who spoke about her recent experience in Eloy Detention Center, said “trans women and the LGBT community aren’t safe in detention centers. I wasn’t safe.” Naz, who emphasized how immigrant detention harms families and his experience being separated from his new wife by immigrant detention, said “Through my detention, our eyes were opened to the injustice of the immigration and detention system and now we are advocates for those who are detained."

Rev. Kelly Allen also spoke about the implications of immigrant detention for people of faith. “Everywhere you turn in scripture, we are commanded to seek justice for the vulnerable, speaking out against greed and the idolatry of wealth,” she said. “The primary narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) is the story of God leading people out of a country that perpetrated violence against them and into a land where they could be safe.”

The full report can be viewed here, including further testimony from Marichuy and Naz.

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Bethany Carson, Grassroots Leadership,, (214) 460-3375