Grassroots Leadership fact checks Hillary Clinton’s criticism of for-profit immigrant detention

May 7, 2015

(AUSTIN, Texas) — As Hillary Clinton stated this week in her roundtable discussion, many Americans don’t realize that there is a quota requiring the detention of tens of thousands of immigrants at any given time, and that many immigrant detention facilities are run by for-profit prison companies that have built-in incentives to fill them up. “I also think we have to reform detention system. I'm not sure a lot of Americans know a lot of the detention facilities for immigrants are run by private companies. They have a built in incentive to fill them up. There is actually a legal requirement that so many beds are filled. So people go out and round up people in order to get paid on a per day basis. That makes no sense to me. That is not the way we should be running any detention facility. There is a lot we have to do to change what is currently happening and try to put us on a path toward a better, humane system for everybody,” Clinton said.

The facts are on the presidential candidate’s side. Clinton is right in stating that this detention quota and the for-profit system are immoral and illogical ways to run a law enforcement agency. In fact, the immigrant detention quota has been interpreted as requiring ICE to lock up 34,000 immigrants at any given time. This arbitrary quota contributes to a mass system of immigrant detention that is devastating to families and communities.

We only wish she would go further than saying we need a “better, humane system.” There is no way to humanely detain immigrants en masse.

As our recently-released report, Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with and Immigrant Detention Quota, found, for-profit prisons have seized a greater portion of the immigrant detention industry since the quota was written into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill in 2009. They’ve increased their share by 13%, and today nearly two-thirds — or 62% — of the ICE immigrant detention industry is now operated by for-profit prison corporations. Nine of the ten largest immigrant detention facilities are operated by these companies.

This has resulted in record profits for the two largest private prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, which dominate the industry. In 2014, these corporations together made $478 million in revenue from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention contracts. The private prison industry has spent an enormous amount of resources — more than $11 million — between 2008-2014 in quarters when they lobbied on national immigration and appropriations policy. They also spent nearly $11 million lobbying on the DHS Appropriations committee, the point of control for the quota. This lobbying incentivizes Congress to maintain the bed quota, which amounts to a taxpayer-financed insurance policy that the government will maintain these corporations’ bottom line at all costs.

All presidential candidates and policy makers should take a stand against this arbitrary and immoral system of immigrant detention that separates families and benefits only the top executives of private prison corporations.


Grassroots Leadership works to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education. For more than a decade, our Austin, Texas office has advocated for alternatives to immigration detention and coordinated visits to immigrants in detention centers.

For immediate release: May 7, 2015

Contact: Bethany Carson,, 512-499-8111