Immigration Reform 2013: Republican Leaders On Immigration Reform Get Millions in Funding From Private Prisons


Private prisons are going for gold, and they're paying off the judges.

In the unfolding aftermath of the Florida Atlantic University stadium being named after an immigrant detention based private prison corporation, and given the ongoing comprehensive immigration reform negotiations, it is reprehensible to see the legislators tasked with reforming our broken immigration laws taking millions in campaign donations from those who stand to make billions more on continued or increased immigrant detention.

Not to make this an issue of campaign finance reform, but when a company spends $45 million on lobbying efforts that net "5.1 billion on immigration detention alone," we may need to think about it. The American people should take very seriously the notion that "Congress doesn't have dependence upon the people alone, but on the funders." Not only are our law-making institutions being compromised, but citizens and non-citizens alike suffer.

While some try to limit money in politics, monied interests are fighting back. And why wouldn't they? They're raking it in by keeping immigrants locked up. Immigration reform is not in their economic favor. Laura Carlsen at HuffPo point out the goose that laid the golden egg: Operation Streamline, which "imprisons men, women and children for immigration violations, sometimes up to 10 months or more, and it channels more than $1 billion a year in federal funds to private-run detention centers."

There's a lot of money involved because there are a lot of bodies being locked up. The ACLU points out, "in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) held a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants in over 250 facilities […] even though, in the overwhelming majority of cases, detention is not necessary to effect deportations and does not make us any safer."

The numbers of lobbyists is climbing as well. Have you seen how many lobby firms are currently employing immigration lobbyist? Open Secrets data shows that 2012, with a one-year jump from 317 to 355, showed the highest number of "clients lobby on immigration" since 2008. These lobbyists are from many fields (in 2011, it was mostly tech clients wanting visa's for highly skilled workers). Would it be safe to assume that this year it's the private prison lobby?

Possibly; the Operation Streamline Costs and Consequences Report points out that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two major players in the immigrant detention private prison lobby, had combined revenues in 2011 of $3 billion, with nearly half — $1.3 billion — coming directly from federal government. I guess that makes it all right to give a few million back in the form of lobby dollars?

As Open Secrets points out, "the private prison industry is responsible for 16% of federal prisoners in the U.S., and makes a substantial portion of its profits from detention centers for illegal immigrants. Tougher laws would mean higher profits, while a path to citizenship could shrink revenues."

We should probably also keep in mind that these revenues — revenues shored up by lobbying efforts and lax oversight — are increased by lack of attention to, and provision for, services to inmates of these centers. The ACLU's report, "Holiday on ICE: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's New Immigration Detention Standards," brings to light the many glaring failures of these centers to uphold the human and civil rights of inmates, specifically women, regarding sexual abuse and assault, medical and mental health care, and more.

This all goes to show that the interests are explicitly defined, the camps organized, and the money directed towards desired ends. Legislators working towards the best interest of the American people and those "huddled masses" who come here for a new life, these same legislators working on dignified and comprehensive immigration reform, should not be taking money from corporate interests whose pockets and profits have been proven to be more important than people.