Arresting Illegal Immigrants in Texas Is Making Private Prisons Companies Rich

No detention center has bigger plans for illegal immigrants than the South Texas Family Center in Dilley. The center is run by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America and is under expansion. By May 2015, the facility will be able to hold 2,400 people. "If this expansion proceeds, Dilley will be the largest immigrant detention center in the U.S.," says a new report about the troubling role that private prison companies play in U.S. immigration policy. The report was published by Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group that is critical of the industry.

Using government and financial records and news articles, the Grassroots report details how two companies -- Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group -- have benefited from locking up illegal immigrants, and how the South Texas border surge in arrests has been especially profitable to the CCA and GEO Group. Texas has 7,602 private beds for the immigrant detainees, Grassroots Leadership found, a figure that represents 39 percent of all private prison beds in the whole country.

The arrests, immigration reformers argue, are largely driven not by a public safety need but something more sinister, the so-called "bed quota." In 2010, lawmakers passed a mandate that the Department of Homeland Security "maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds."

In the years since the quota went into effect, lawmakers have warned ICE officials to keep the beds full, and profits for the people running the prisons have jumped.

Both the CCA and GEO Group have gained more control over immigration detention centers after the quota went into effect, which appears to have been a wise investment for the companies. CCA's profits shot up from $133 million in 2007 to $195 million in 2014. GEO Group, which runs the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City (a facility that has had its share of complaints, including allegations that women are preyed on by the guards), has made even more. The company's profits jumped 244 percent from 2007 to 2014, the report found. An investor presentation obtained by Grassroots Leadership explains how keeping beds full has kept those profits high: "filling vacant beds would add ≈ $1.00 to [Earnings Per Share] & [Adjusted Funds From Operations] per share," the report says.

See also: South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful

Unsurprisingly, expenditure figures show that the two companies have also spent millions lobbying the government about immigration policy.

Of course, terrible experiences in privately-run immigrant prisons are not universal. When The Washington Post visited the Karnes facility in 2013, a Honduran man told the paper that "this place is great." Neither is it the private prisons' fault that Central Americans continue to flock to the South Texas border. But the Grassroots report raises a bigger argument, that it's probably not a good idea to let our immigration policies be influenced by a few companies with something to gain. The full report is below:

Quota Report

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn