Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons

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An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

For many months now, states all over the U.S. and the federal government have taken steps to “get tough” on undocumented immigrants of color without taking into account the fact that workers are crossing the border because U.S. employers are desperate for their labor and no visas exist to permit their entry.

Instead of spending their time tackling this reality, which if actually addressed might create a basis for the nondiscriminatory enforcement of immigration laws, legislators are instead continuing to introduce bills, such as Rep. Lamar Smith’s H.R. 1932.

These bills throw more money at detention centers and enforcement operations and ups the ante by making their imprisonment mandatory and indefinite, regardless of Supreme Court precedent finding that it’s unconstitutional.

Not to be outdone by Arizona’s S.B. 1070, in Alabama the State Congress passed H.R.56, which not only punishes immigrant communities, it also criminalizes third parties who rent houses to undocumented immigrants, which, while reading neutrally, is likely directed at immigrant communities of color.

While some politicians believe this type of legislation will prove to constituents how seriously they take immigration issues, discriminatory laws, whether intentional or disproportionate in impact, violate the human rights of immigrants and communities of color, and pose an enormous financial burden on state and federal governments.

Immigrants, third parties, and government budgets suffer under the burden of these draconian bills, but one group does continue to reap enormous benefits: the private prison corporations who receive incredibly lucrative contracts to detain the very same immigrants that all these bills target, and if Lamar Smith has his way, mandatorily and indefinitely.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) receives forty percent of its business from the federal government, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). In recent years, the CCA and BOP have enjoyed a disturbingly close relationship as high-ranking BOP directors,who have overseen the transfer of millions of dollars in contracts to the CCA, have left BOP only to accept lofty positions at the CCA.

Most recently, Harlan Lappin, who personally oversaw tens of millions of dollars in contracts to the CCA, retired as BOP’s director and three weeks after his retirement was finalized in May 2011, CCA announced that Lappinwould become the new Executive Vice President and Chief Corrections Officer for the company.

Really? Doesn’t that unnerve anyone in government?

In 1993, Michael Quinlan, another former BOP director, left the agency amid a sexual harassment controversy and subsequently took a senior position with the CCA in the Strategic Planning Division. He is currently a Senior Vice President.

Although President Obama has issued an executive order restricting presidential appointees from engaging in work that directly affects immediate former clients and employers for two years after leaving their appointments, apparently it’s too often an overlooked reward on the way out.

The close relationship between the CCA and BOP is even more alarming considering the CCA’s well-documented history of gross human rights violations in its prisons, including mistreatment, failing to stop preventable injuries and health emergencies, and allowing preventable deaths in its immigration and other detention facilities.

In December 2010, the FBI initiated an investigation of the CCA after a video was released by the Associated Press showing an inmate being beaten unconscious while security guards watched without intervening. In 2010, the New York Times reported that nine deaths had occurred at the CCA’s prison facility in Eloy, Arizona, more than any other immigration contract prison facility in the country.

But why would it bother CCA? Government retirees are still more than happy to reap the financial benefits of the private contractors’ callous care.

The lucrative relationship between the detention of immigrants, their government wardens, and private prison contractors is alarming and unacceptable. While immigrants live in fear of oppressive immigration enforcement actions, private prison contractors enjoy a thriving business. When legislators pass more repressive bills that wreck havoc on families, promote poverty by jailing breadwinners, and push communities to mistrust their police, the private prison contractors are likely the first to celebrate.

Influential government positions may not be as lucrative as those in the private industry, but they do convey exceptional esteem and should be prohibited from use as a slingshot to riches. Likewise, imprisoning immigrants should not be a golden goose for private corporations, but apparently in this area, what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.

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26 thoughts on “Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons

  1. You say in your article that employers are "desperate" for illegal immigrants labor but fail to mention we have a 9% if not higher unemployment rate in the United States. Most importantly, they want these illegal workers for cheap labor and thus drive down wages of honest working Americans.

  2. Corporations only care about profits. Survival of the fittest out their pal. A great philosophy if you are fit or lucky enough to be born elite, not so good in every other case. Like if you are unlucky enough to get sick where you can't compete anymore.

  3. Or just unlucky enough to be born in the hood and raised in an environment of violence and the chances of actually breaking out of this cycle is slim, all the while hearing some jackass who lives in a gated community braying about how it is the poor person's own fault for being poor or lacking the drive to pull yourself up by the boot strap.

  4. You say in your article that employers are “desperate” for illegal immigrants labor but fail to mention we have a 9% if not higher unemployment rate in the United States. Most importantly, they want these illegal workers for cheap labor and thus drive down wages of honest working Americans.

  5. Corporations only care about profits. Survival of the fittest out their pal. A great philosophy if you are fit or lucky enough to be born elite, not so good in every other case. Like if you are unlucky enough to get sick where you can’t compete anymore.

  6. Or just unlucky enough to be born in the hood and raised in an environment of violence and the chances of actually breaking out of this cycle is slim, all the while hearing some jackass who lives in a gated community braying about how it is the poor person’s own fault for being poor or lacking the drive to pull yourself up by the boot strap.

  7. umm.. i worked at kfc and they had illegal workers there – the funny part being I gave all my docs and they still gave me trouble when hiring – so instead i was the bad person in the eyes of illegal workers while they got regular pays and more work time – go figure .. and i came to this country "legally" but had to face immense problems from govt becuz of people who come another way .. where are these jobs coming from, because i've been jobs searching since march with no luck; i wonder why no article comes out at people who suffer at other's expense. also dont understand how illegal people get SSI etc and also working while legal people have no1 to take care of them.

  8. umm.. i worked at kfc and they had illegal workers there – the funny part being I gave all my docs and they still gave me trouble when hiring – so instead i was the bad person in the eyes of illegal workers while they got regular pays and more work time – go figure .. and i came to this country “legally” but had to face immense problems from govt becuz of people who come another way .. where are these jobs coming from, because i’ve been jobs searching since march with no luck; i wonder why no article comes out at people who suffer at other’s expense. also dont understand how illegal people get SSI etc and also working while legal people have no1 to take care of them.

  9. Agricultural jobs tend to be filled by undocumented workers. As unemployment rates hover around ten percent, the illusion that these undocumented workers are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans makes immigrants an appealing scapegoat. What many fail to recognize, or chose to ignore (preferring an easy target to facts and statistics),is that the agricultural jobs that undocumented workers often hold are some of the least desirable jobs in the U.S. These positions often require back-breaking work in exchange for payment near minimum wage. Unemployed Americans have refused this type of unskilled labor, assumedly hoping for something more attractive.

    In the summer of 2010, the United Farmworkers of America (UFW) labor union launched a campaign to offer agricultural jobs to unemployed legal workers. (See http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Farmerhttp://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/index.htm). While 6,000 people initially responded to the campaign, only a total of three people actually took up agricultural positions, likely because the others realized that farm work required long hours, labor intensive conditions, and low wages that they would not tolerate or accept. The truth is that agricultural jobs, which sometimes do not include benefits or workers’ compensation, are positions that not even unemployed Americans want.

    The fact that the UFW has defended undocumented workers, and was unable to recruit legal workers into agricultural positions demonstrates that contrary to the common perception that undocumented workers are “stealing” American jobs, the truth is that many immigrants are filling positions that no American is willing to do, and they are working under harsh conditions to provide what little they can for their families. Instead of demonizing undocumented workers, these individuals deserve recognition of their human rights and our support and respect as they continue to perform grueling work that fuels our farm industry and ensure that the fruit and vegetables served on plates each evening are affordable and fresh.

    For more information, see: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/stephen-colbert-as

  10. Agricultural jobs tend to be filled by undocumented workers. As unemployment rates hover around ten percent, the illusion that these undocumented workers are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans makes immigrants an appealing scapegoat. What many fail to recognize, or chose to ignore (preferring an easy target to facts and statistics),is that the agricultural jobs that undocumented workers often hold are some of the least desirable jobs in the U.S. These positions often require back-breaking work in exchange for payment near minimum wage. Unemployed Americans have refused this type of unskilled labor, assumedly hoping for something more attractive.

    In the summer of 2010, the United Farmworkers of America (UFW) labor union launched a campaign to offer agricultural jobs to unemployed legal workers. (See http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Farmerhttp://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/index.htm). While 6,000 people initially responded to the campaign, only a total of three people actually took up agricultural positions, likely because the others realized that farm work required long hours, labor intensive conditions, and low wages that they would not tolerate or accept. The truth is that agricultural jobs, which sometimes do not include benefits or workers’ compensation, are positions that not even unemployed Americans want.

    The fact that the UFW has defended undocumented workers, and was unable to recruit legal workers into agricultural positions demonstrates that contrary to the common perception that undocumented workers are “stealing” American jobs, the truth is that many immigrants are filling positions that no American is willing to do, and they are working under harsh conditions to provide what little they can for their families. Instead of demonizing undocumented workers, these individuals deserve recognition of their human rights and our support and respect as they continue to perform grueling work that fuels our farm industry and ensure that the fruit and vegetables served on plates each evening are affordable and fresh.

    For more information, see: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/stephen-colbert-as

  11. Agricultural jobs tend to be filled by undocumented workers. As unemployment rates hover around ten percent, the illusion that these undocumented workers are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans makes immigrants an appealing scapegoat. What many fail to recognize, or chose to ignore (preferring an easy target to facts and statistics),is that the agricultural jobs that undocumented workers often hold are some of the least desirable jobs in the U.S. These positions often require back-breaking work in exchange for payment near minimum wage. Unemployed Americans have refused this type of unskilled labor, assumedly hoping for something more attractive.

    In the summer of 2010, the United Farmworkers of America (UFW) labor union launched a campaign to offer agricultural jobs to unemployed legal workers. (See http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Farmerhttp://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/index.htm). While 6,000 people initially responded to the campaign, only a total of three people actually took up agricultural positions, likely because the others realized that farm work required long hours, labor intensive conditions, and low wages that they would not tolerate or accept. The truth is that agricultural jobs, which sometimes do not include benefits or workers’ compensation, are positions that not even unemployed Americans want.

    The fact that the UFW has defended undocumented workers, and was unable to recruit legal workers into agricultural positions demonstrates that contrary to the common perception that undocumented workers are “stealing” American jobs, the truth is that many immigrants are filling positions that no American is willing to do, and they are working under harsh conditions to provide what little they can for their families. Instead of demonizing undocumented workers, these individuals deserve recognition of their human rights and our support and respect as they continue to perform grueling work that fuels our farm industry and ensure that the fruit and vegetables served on plates each evening are affordable and fresh.

    For more information, see: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/stephen-colbert-as

  12. Agricultural jobs tend to be filled by undocumented workers. As unemployment rates hover around ten percent, the illusion that these undocumented workers are stealing jobs from hardworking Americans makes immigrants an appealing scapegoat. What many fail to recognize, or chose to ignore (preferring an easy target to facts and statistics),is that the agricultural jobs that undocumented workers often hold are some of the least desirable jobs in the U.S. These positions often require back-breaking work in exchange for payment near minimum wage. Unemployed Americans have refused this type of unskilled labor, assumedly hoping for something more attractive.

    In the summer of 2010, the United Farmworkers of America (UFW) labor union launched a campaign to offer agricultural jobs to unemployed legal workers. (See http://www.voanews.com/english/news/usa/US-Farmers-Depend-on-Illegal-Immigrants-100541644.html, http://money.cnn.com/2010/07/07/news/economy/farm_worker_jobs/index.htm). While 6,000 people initially responded to the campaign, only a total of three people actually took up agricultural positions, likely because the others realized that farm work required long hours, labor intensive conditions, and low wages that they would not tolerate or accept. The truth is that agricultural jobs, which sometimes do not include benefits or workers’ compensation, are positions that not even unemployed Americans want.

    The fact that the UFW has defended undocumented workers, and was unable to recruit legal workers into agricultural positions demonstrates that contrary to the common perception that undocumented workers are “stealing” American jobs, the truth is that many immigrants are filling positions that no American is willing to do, and they are working under harsh conditions to provide what little they can for their families. Instead of demonizing undocumented workers, these individuals deserve recognition of their human rights and our support and respect as they continue to perform grueling work that fuels our farm industry and ensure that the fruit and vegetables served on plates each evening are affordable and fresh.

    For more information, see: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/stephen-colbert-asked-testify-immigration/story?id=11717624&page=2

  13. The documentless humans do the work americans don't.

    The lowest ones.

    If they drive down your wages, why not struggle together with them for a higher minimum wage for ALL ?

    The struggle is together, after all.

  14. Dear arlenesns,

    As you say, the only people who gave you great trouble are the govt ( before they let you in ) & kfc ( before they let you in, too ).

    Don't blame documentless humans because they fall in through the cracks where you can't.

    The poor can sometimes get in through a needle's eye in the kingdoms of both heaven & earth where better off ones cannot.

    The reason you don't get a job has nothing to do with the documentless.

    It is because most jobs ………. except for the menial servicing jobs ……… are being outsourced by the big corporations to sweatshops abroad.

    & the jobs that are around are being deunionized, so that being with documents will mean just as good as being without.

  15. The documentless humans do the work americans don’t.

    The lowest ones.

    If they drive down your wages, why not struggle together with them for a higher minimum wage for ALL ?

    The struggle is together, after all.

  16. Dear arlenesns,

    As you say, the only people who gave you great trouble are the govt ( before they let you in ) & kfc ( before they let you in, too ).

    Don’t blame documentless humans because they fall in through the cracks where you can’t.

    The poor can sometimes get in through a needle’s eye in the kingdoms of both heaven & earth where better off ones cannot.

    The reason you don’t get a job has nothing to do with the documentless.

    It is because most jobs ………. except for the menial servicing jobs ……… are being outsourced by the big corporations to sweatshops abroad.

    & the jobs that are around are being deunionized, so that being with documents will mean just as good as being without.

  17. Caitlan, that study deals with ag workers and was conducted by an organization that had a vested intrest in it's outcome. Fact is there are millions of jobs out there being held by illegals in work environments as varied as restraunants to construction some paying up to 20 dollars an hour. There is a big elephant in the room and that is the large number of unemployed Black males who are unemployed, many of whom have criminal records further hampering their ability to find work. America was built on immigration and our immigration policies have always been based on the exploitation of labor-yes exploiting one ethnic group of workers by "opening the doors" to another group who will work for less. This was even the case in the modern Illegal labor market few years ago when Central Americans were undercutting Mexican illegals. We have enough poor and not enough jobs-It is time to enforce our labor laws………

  18. Caitlan, that study deals with ag workers and was conducted by an organization that had a vested intrest in it’s outcome. Fact is there are millions of jobs out there being held by illegals in work environments as varied as restraunants to construction some paying up to 20 dollars an hour. There is a big elephant in the room and that is the large number of unemployed Black males who are unemployed, many of whom have criminal records further hampering their ability to find work. America was built on immigration and our immigration policies have always been based on the exploitation of labor-yes exploiting one ethnic group of workers by “opening the doors” to another group who will work for less. This was even the case in the modern Illegal labor market few years ago when Central Americans were undercutting Mexican illegals. We have enough poor and not enough jobs-It is time to enforce our labor laws………

  19. In a variety of sectors, beyond agricultural work, immigrants make positive contributions to the economy that actually fuel job creation for American workers. H-1B visas are reserved for highly skilled temporary foreign workers. In 2008, The National Foundation for American Policy released a report that in technology companies, “there is a positive and statistically significant correlation” between H-1B visas requested by employers and job creation at that company in the subsequent year. Bill Gates agreed that for every H-1B visa worker they hire, approximately four support service jobs are created.

    In April 2011, The Immigration Policy Center also released a report that at least half of undocumented workers pay income and property taxes, which adds up to billions of dollars in state and federal revenue. For the exact numbers broken down by state, see: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    However, most relevant to Bart’s comment about immigrants taking jobs from African American males, the Immigration Policy Center also released a report by an economist who studied the effect of undocumented immigrants on the African American communities’ ability to find employment, and reached the conclusion that undocumented immigrants actually have little to no effect. This economist found that other societal factors have had a far greater influence on employment than immigration does. Social programs that focus on improving education, among other things, would have a far greater impact on improving employment than cracking-down on illegal immigrants and creating a whole other societal problem and leading to further human rights concerns. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    Further reports based on the premise that if undocumented workers take employment from legal workers, then areas with large undocumented populations would have the highest rate of unemployment have also undermined the idea that undocumented workers steal jobs. Interestingly, these reports have found that there is no correlation between unemployment rate in a particular area and the number of undocumented persons living there. This suggests that undocumented immigrants actually have no impact on overall unemployment rates. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi

  20. In a variety of sectors, beyond agricultural work, immigrants make positive contributions to the economy that actually fuel job creation for American workers. H-1B visas are reserved for highly skilled temporary foreign workers. In 2008, The National Foundation for American Policy released a report that in technology companies, “there is a positive and statistically significant correlation” between H-1B visas requested by employers and job creation at that company in the subsequent year. Bill Gates agreed that for every H-1B visa worker they hire, approximately four support service jobs are created.

    In April 2011, The Immigration Policy Center also released a report that at least half of undocumented workers pay income and property taxes, which adds up to billions of dollars in state and federal revenue. For the exact numbers broken down by state, see: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    However, most relevant to Bart’s comment about immigrants taking jobs from African American males, the Immigration Policy Center also released a report by an economist who studied the effect of undocumented immigrants on the African American communities’ ability to find employment, and reached the conclusion that undocumented immigrants actually have little to no effect. This economist found that other societal factors have had a far greater influence on employment than immigration does. Social programs that focus on improving education, among other things, would have a far greater impact on improving employment than cracking-down on illegal immigrants and creating a whole other societal problem and leading to further human rights concerns. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    Further reports based on the premise that if undocumented workers take employment from legal workers, then areas with large undocumented populations would have the highest rate of unemployment have also undermined the idea that undocumented workers steal jobs. Interestingly, these reports have found that there is no correlation between unemployment rate in a particular area and the number of undocumented persons living there. This suggests that undocumented immigrants actually have no impact on overall unemployment rates. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi

  21. In a variety of sectors, beyond agricultural work, immigrants make positive contributions to the economy that actually fuel job creation for American workers. H-1B visas are reserved for highly skilled temporary foreign workers. In 2008, The National Foundation for American Policy released a report that in technology companies, “there is a positive and statistically significant correlation” between H-1B visas requested by employers and job creation at that company in the subsequent year. Bill Gates agreed that for every H-1B visa worker they hire, approximately four support service jobs are created.

    In April 2011, The Immigration Policy Center also released a report that at least half of undocumented workers pay income and property taxes, which adds up to billions of dollars in state and federal revenue. For the exact numbers broken down by state, see: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    However, most relevant to Bart’s comment about immigrants taking jobs from African American males, the Immigration Policy Center also released a report by an economist who studied the effect of undocumented immigrants on the African American communities’ ability to find employment, and reached the conclusion that undocumented immigrants actually have little to no effect. This economist found that other societal factors have had a far greater influence on employment than immigration does. Social programs that focus on improving education, among other things, would have a far greater impact on improving employment than cracking-down on illegal immigrants and creating a whole other societal problem and leading to further human rights concerns. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi….

    Further reports based on the premise that if undocumented workers take employment from legal workers, then areas with large undocumented populations would have the highest rate of unemployment have also undermined the idea that undocumented workers steal jobs. Interestingly, these reports have found that there is no correlation between unemployment rate in a particular area and the number of undocumented persons living there. This suggests that undocumented immigrants actually have no impact on overall unemployment rates. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/fi

  22. In a variety of sectors, beyond agricultural work, immigrants make positive contributions to the economy that actually fuel job creation for American workers. H-1B visas are reserved for highly skilled temporary foreign workers. In 2008, The National Foundation for American Policy released a report that in technology companies, “there is a positive and statistically significant correlation” between H-1B visas requested by employers and job creation at that company in the subsequent year. Bill Gates agreed that for every H-1B visa worker they hire, approximately four support service jobs are created.

    In April 2011, The Immigration Policy Center also released a report that at least half of undocumented workers pay income and property taxes, which adds up to billions of dollars in state and federal revenue. For the exact numbers broken down by state, see: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/Tax_Contributions_by_Unauthorized_Immigrants_041811.pdf.

    However, most relevant to Bart’s comment about immigrants taking jobs from African American males, the Immigration Policy Center also released a report by an economist who studied the effect of undocumented immigrants on the African American communities’ ability to find employment, and reached the conclusion that undocumented immigrants actually have little to no effect. This economist found that other societal factors have had a far greater influence on employment than immigration does. Social programs that focus on improving education, among other things, would have a far greater impact on improving employment than cracking-down on illegal immigrants and creating a whole other societal problem and leading to further human rights concerns. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/Gerald%20Jaynes%20071409.pdf.

    Further reports based on the premise that if undocumented workers take employment from legal workers, then areas with large undocumented populations would have the highest rate of unemployment have also undermined the idea that undocumented workers steal jobs. Interestingly, these reports have found that there is no correlation between unemployment rate in a particular area and the number of undocumented persons living there. This suggests that undocumented immigrants actually have no impact on overall unemployment rates. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/Part%201%20-%20Unemployment%20Disconnect%20%2005-19-09.pdf