Detention and the #ShutDownHutto Campaign


On any given day, at least 34,000 people are detained in immigrant detention centers in the U.S. to meet an arbitrary lock-up quota dictated by Congress. Stopping the quota would be a giant step forward in ending our reliance on detention. Grassroots Leadership researches and exposes the role of for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in enacting the quota contributes to the growing national movement to stop immigrant detention.


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It's Elementary: The Cost of Immigration Detention Doesn't Add Up

This week, National Immigration Forum posted their report, The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies, examining the cost to taxpayers of detaining immigrants, the majority of whom have no criminal record.  Additionally, the report highlights how the private for-profit prison industry stands to gain the most from the growing number of immigrants in detention facilities.   

The report paints a clear picture of the exorbitant amount of money the federal government continues to spend on detaining hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year, while funding allocated for alternatives to detention, which would keep immigrants in their communities with their families, remains dwarfed in comparison to detention.  


Who in the House is Cashing in on Immigrant Detention?

As we covered two weeks ago, the "comprehensive immigration reform" measures being debated in Congress could pour even more millions into the pockets of private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.  The bill passed by the Senate last month would increase funding for programs like Operation Streamline, which funnel immigrants into the federal criminal justice system are result in more immigrants behind bars.  Now that immigration reform has been passed off to the House of Representatives, we've compiled a list of the the six representatives who benefitted the most from for-profit prison money in 2012.

1. Hal Rogers (R-KY), who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee, and his Help America’s Leaders PAC received a total of $34,500 from CCA, GEO, and MTC.  The number is fitting -- 34,000 is the number of immigrant detention beds Rogers’ committee mandates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement fill every single day.  With more than half of all detention beds operated by private prison corporations, that means big business for CCA, GEO, and their peers.

2.  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) comes in second on our list, bringing in $24,000 from private prison companies in 2012.  The donations came directly to the Boehner's campaign, through his John Boehner for Speaker Committee, and through The Freedom Project-Friends of John Boehner PAC, which is closely aligned with the speaker.  In fact, CCA was one of TFP's biggest donors, having given it $10,000.  Boehner is not only a promoter of immigrant detention, but also one of the main hinderances to new immigration laws coming before the House.


ICE Official that Pushed Deportation Quota Now Works for Private Prison Corporation GEO Group

Today's USA Today carried a disturbing article highlighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement's effort to increase the number of deportations through aggressive enforcement mechanisms.

Internal emails at the agency showed that ICE agents "were trolling state driver's license records for information about foreign-born applicants, dispatching U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to traffic safety checkpoints conducted by police departments, and processing more illegal immigrants who had been booked into jails for low-level offenses."  

The former official whose emails are heavily quoted in the article is David Venturella, former assistant director at ICE.  Guess where Mr. Venturella ended up after his term at ICE?  Mr. Venturella is now the Executive Vice President for Corporate Development at GEO Group, according to his LinkedIn profile.  GEO Group is a private prison corporation that heavily depends on federal immigration contracts to ensure a steady profit stream and employs a stream of heavily connected lobbyists in DC.  


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:


Close Down Polk: Expose & Close Vigil on December 8th

Activists marching outside the Polk detention center
As part of the national Expose & Close campaign, Grassroots Leadership, Texans United for Families, and Houston Unidos led a vigil this Saturday outside of the IAH (Polk) County Secure Adult Detention Center. Over a hundred community members from a diverse coalition of human rights group gathered to call for the closure of the detention center, highlight the continued human rights abuses, and denounce profiteering from the detention of immigrants in the US.  Activists from Austin had previously toured the facility and found atrocious conditions – detained men eat, sleep, and use the bathroom all in one room, spend up to twenty three hours in their crowded cells, and have little access to family or legal aid on the outside.  Sam Vong, one of the authors of a report on the facility, "witnessed horrible conditions" and says that "ICE must shut down this facility as a first step towards reducing its detained population."


Protesting immigration detention for International Human Rights Day

Today, the New York Times called the immigration detention system "dangerously broken." More than 34,000 immigrants awake each day in the immigration detention system.   The system relies heavily on for-profit corporations who own and/or operate prisons and county jails to detain migrants.  According to the Times,"The paradigm is wrong. The system is dangerously broken." [node:read-more:link]

Humpday Hall of Shame: CCA's Stewart Detention Center

Every Wednesday we highlight the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

This week, we focus not on an individual lawmaker, but on a private prison facility itself.  Meet Corrections Corporation of America's (CCA) Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia - our newest inductee into the Humpday Hall of Shame.

Stewart is the nation's largest immigrant detention center, and is located in state that recently passed a strict anti-immigrant law that is modeled after Arizona's infamous SB 1070.  As NPR reported ("Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law," October 28, 2010) last year, CCA actively helped draft SB 1070.


Rediscovering Arizona - Abuse in Immigration Detention Centers

We have dedicated much of our blog this month to the State of Arizona and its connection to private prisons, ICE-contracted immigrant detention and policy makers tied to bad legislation.  The ACLU of Arizona, in its latest report, adds to the narrative some of the voices within this epic and historic struggle for justice.

From Victoria Lopez, ACLU of Arizona:

Earlier this summer, the ACLU of Arizona released a report documenting the cases of men and women who have suffered from abuses related to inhumane conditions and inadequate legal protections in Arizona ICE detention centers. The report, “In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers,” is based on 115 interviews with people detained in Eloy and Florence, Arizona, correspondence with detainees and their family members, and review of hundreds of government records, including more than 500 grievances.