Immigrants Prove Highly Profitable for Private Prison Companies


MIAMI -- The U.S. is locking up more illegal immigrants than ever, generating lucrative profits for the nation's largest prison companies, and an Associated Press review shows the businesses have spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying lawmakers and contributing to campaigns.

The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.

After a decade of expansion, the sprawling, private system runs detention centers everywhere from a Denver suburb to an industrial area flanking Newark's airport, and is largely controlled by just three companies.

The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.

In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation's civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.

The companies also have raked in cash from subsidiaries that provide health care and transportation. And they are holding more immigrants convicted of federal crimes in their privately-run prisons.

The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn't necessarily cheaper.

This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress' unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers' negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention.

The industry's giants -- Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. -- have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.

CCA and GEO, who manage most private detention centers, insist they aren't trying to influence immigration policy to make more money, and their lobbying and campaign donations have been legal.

"As a matter of long-standing corporate policy, CCA does not lobby on issues that would determine the basis for an individual's detention or incarceration," CCA spokesman Steve Owen said in an email to the AP. The company has a website dedicated to debunking such allegations.

GEO, which was part of The Wackenhut Corp. security firm until 2003, and Management and Training Corp. declined repeated interview requests.

Advocates for immigrants are skeptical of claims that the lobbying is not meant to influence policy.

"That's a lot of money to listen quietly," said Peter Cervantes-Gautschi, who has helped lead a campaign to encourage large banks and mutual funds to divest from the prison companies.

The detention centers are located in cities and remote areas alike, often in low-slung buildings surrounded by chain-link fences and razor wire. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents detain men, women and children suspected of violating civil immigration laws at these facilities. Most of those held at the 250 sites nationwide are illegal immigrants awaiting deportation, but some green card holders, asylum seekers and others are also there.

The total average nightly cost to taxpayers to detain an illegal immigrant, including health care and guards' salaries, is about $166, ICE confirmed only after the AP calculated that figure and presented it to the agency.

That's up from $80 in 2004. ICE said the $80 figure didn't include all of the same costs but declined to provide details.

Pedro Guzman is among those who have passed through the private detention centers. He was brought to the U.S. by his Guatemalan mother at age 8. He was working and living here legally under temporary protected status but was detained after missing an appearance for an asylum application his mother had filed for him. Officials ordered him deported.

Although he was married to a U.S. citizen, ICE considered him a flight risk and locked him up in 2009: first at a private detention facility run by CCA in Gainesville, Ga., and eventually at CCA's Stewart Detention Center, south of Atlanta. Guzman spent 19 months in Stewart until he was finally granted legal permanent residency.

"It's a millionaire's business, and they are living off profits from each one of the people who go through there every single night," said Guzman, now a cable installer in Durham, N.C. "It's our money that we earn as taxpayers every day that goes to finance this."

The federal government stepped up detentions of illegal immigrants in the 1990s, as the number of people crossing the border soared. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring many more illegal immigrants be locked up. But it wasn't until 2005 - as the corrections companies' lobbying efforts reached their zenith - that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency's budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.

Dora Schriro, who in 2009 reviewed the nation's detention system at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, said nearly every aspect had been outsourced.

"ICE was always relying on others for responsibilities that are fundamentally those of the government," said Schriro, now the New York City Correction Commissioner. "If you don't have the competency to know what is a fair price to ask and negotiate the most favorable rates for the best service, then the likelihood that you are going to overspend is greater."

Private companies argue they can save Americans money by running the centers more cheaply.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for Boca Raton, Fla.-based GEO, said in an email his company supports public-private partnerships which "have been demonstrated to achieve significant cost savings for the taxpayers." He declined to answer specific questions.

But ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations Gary Mead said the government has never studied whether privatizing immigrant detention saves money.

"They are not our most expensive, they are not our cheapest" facilities, he said. "At some point cost cannot be the only factor."

One fundamental difference between private detention facilities and their publicly-run counterparts is transparency. The private ones don't have to follow the same public records and access requirements.

President Barack Obama has asked for less detention money this year and encouraged the agency to look at alternatives to locking people up. He also ordered DHS to stop deporting young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally, which could reduce the number behind bars. Congress, however, can approve more detention spending than DHS requests.

Beyond civil detention centers, private companies are also making more money locking up non-citizens who commit federal crimes.

To deter illegal border crossers, federal prosecutors are increasingly charging immigrants with felonies for repeatedly entering the country without papers. That has led thousands of people convicted of illegal re-entry, as well as more serious federal offenses, to serve time in private prisons built just for them.

A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.

CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.

GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.

"Another factor driving growth ... for the private sector is in the area of immigration and illegal immigration specifically," Chief Financial Officer Brian Evans told investors in GEO's 2011 3rd quarter earnings call.

CCA warned in its 2011 annual earnings report that federal policy changes in "illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them."

Utah-based Management and Training is not publicly held, so it does not post earnings.

At just the federal level, these companies, their political action committees and their employees have spent more than $32 million on lobbying and on campaign contributions since 2000 - with the national political parties getting the largest campaign contributions.

An AP review of Federal Election Commission data found the prison companies and their employees gave to key congressional leaders who control how much money goes to run the nation's detention centers and who influence how many contracts go to the private sector.

James Thurber, head of American University's Center for Congressional & Presidential Studies, said amid the heated national debate over immigration, the companies have been savvy not to donate heavily to those sponsoring legislation, which could spark backlash.

There are more discrete and more powerful ways to influence policy, Thurber said.

"Follow the money," he said. "If the money is being increased significantly for illegal immigration, then that is a shift in policy ... a significant shift."

The top beneficiaries of the campaign contributions include:

• The Republican Party. Its national and congressional committees received around $450,000. Democrats received less than half that.

• Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) received $71,000, mostly during his failed presidential bid against Obama, well after he dropped support for a bill that would have given illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and reduced detentions.

• House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) received $63,000.

• U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) received about $59,000. Rogers chaired the first subcommittee on Homeland Security and heads the powerful House Appropriations Committee. He often criticizes ICE for not filling more detention beds.

• Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) received $58,500. The lawmaker from Tennessee, where CCA is headquartered, led the Senate at the height of the nation's immigrant detention build up from 2003 to 2007.

More than campaign contributions, though, the private prison companies spent most of their money each year on lobbying in Washington, peaking in 2005 when they spent $5 million.

In just 2011, CCA paid the Washington firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld $280,000 in part to "monitor immigration reform," federal reports show.

They also lobbied heavily against a bill that would force them to comply with the same open records requirements governing public facilities.

Owen, the CCA spokesman, said the company ramped up lobbying to acquaint new lawmakers with the industry.

"In recent years, federal elections have been very volatile, resulting in a lot of new faces in Washington," he said. "The result of that volatility means a lot of people at the federal level who may not be familiar with the work we do."

The prison companies' influence at the state level mirrors that in Washington, although the money is even harder to track since many states, such as Arizona and Illinois, where the companies have won lucrative detention contracts, don't require corporations to disclose what they pay lobbyists.

The AP reviewed campaign contribution data from the three companies' political action committees and their employees over the last decade, compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. From 2003 to the first half of 2012, state candidates and political parties in the 50 states received more than $5.32 million.

In the 10 states where the companies' committees and employees contributed the most, the AP found they also spent at least $8 million more lobbying local officials in the last five years alone. It is impossible to know how much of this lobbying money was aimed only at immigrant-related contracts. But that money generally went to states along the border, such as Florida and Texas, which have high numbers of immigrants, as well as states such as Georgia and Louisiana, where large numbers of immigrants also are detained.

ICE has begun providing more oversight as part of the Obama administration's pledge to overhaul the nation's system for jailing immigration offenders. It recently scrapped plans for CCA to build a 1,500-bed immigrant detention center in a high-end Miami suburb following months of local protests.

But it remains committed to adding more private beds. Plans are on track to build or expand private immigration jails in Newark, N.J., in the suburbs of Chicago and along a lonely stretch of California's Mojave Desert.


Burke reported from San Francisco.

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How stupid is that to lock them up...Just deport the fools...The U S government is just so stupid...

August 03 2012 at 7:03 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply


Filling up detention centers with illegal aliens is no fault but today’s and yesterdays administrations? Why you might ask? The simple fact that the U.S. Immigration laws were taken for granted. Nobody really bothered to enforce the Congressional policies, with any rigid rules, even after the blanket amnesty of 1986? Illegal aliens have been pouring through open areas of the border fencing for decades, and equally foreign nationals have not been tracked after entering America as a tourist or other visitor. The pressure groups lobbying in Washington claimed they need workers, so a million or more supposedly top accomplished workers have been immigrating since the early 90’s, instead of the highly skilled people. Now both political parties and the American people wonder why we have a commercial prison industry with outrageous costs. Seems to me it’s very logical, that without serious consequences such as enacting illegal entry as a felony, building a fence according to the 2006 former Bush Secure fence Act or tracking the people, as Mexico has done, who have arrived here posing as a visitor. Then now we are really have to ‘Pay the Piper’ for the outrageous incompetence and unconcerned of those in charge of the people’s protection.


August 03 2012 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In a startling incumbent election Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar was defeated by a Tea Party leader Senate nominee Richard Mourdock. And now TEA PARTY favorite Ted Cruz (R) has beaten Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, for the outgoing seat of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Yet another Republican has bitten the dust, replaced a true TEA PARTY supporter. Both hard core Democrats and the Republicans should be very nervous, very worried indeed about incumbent politicians who hopefully lose seats to TEA PARTY growth? The TEA PARTY, which backs Ted Cruz, stated that the race is an omen for the country. Seems to me that ordinary Americans have seen an alternative to both political parties in the TEA PARTY ranks?

Ted Cruz has focused on interior enforcement, workplace verification, and border security. In a NumbersUSA survey response it has shown his commitment to reducing the overall numbers of illegal aliens. Dewhurst, while endorsing a mandatory workplace verification system, has been less than enthusiastic when it comes to border security and interior enforcement. He also supported the Texas in-state tuition bill for illegal aliens passed back in 2001, and as Texas Senate President prevented key enforcement legislation, including Gov. Rick Perry's anti-sanctuary city, bill from coming to the floor for a vote.

I have no faith in Mitt Romney’s administration, and the serious danger of re-electing President Obama is very tangible. He will want to keep paying out taxpayer’s money to Americans who have no interest in seeking a job or in fact never bothered to work in their lives; the exception being attributed to the sick and handicapped. The only real alternative is the TEA PARTY, which is gathering massive amounts of voters as a storm of confidence in a PEOPLES WASHINGTON, instead of the old guard of Republicans and their opposites. Any individual can join the TEA PARTY, as long as they are here in the United States legally. The TEA PARTY is a ‘political Statement’ about a government that has run amok of the U.S. Constitution, which has nearly bankrupted this country. These nations are being overrun with common criminals from across our borders or fly in impersonating a visitor, with intent to leave. Every day the scale of illegal alien drunken drivers go up, crashing into innocent families. It’s not just a crime rate rising in the Southwest, but the spread of these people bring with them their heinous records from across the globe.

August 03 2012 at 6:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We have Obama’s people shoving ObamaCare—the health care plan NO ONE sought, down our throats; Question—are illegal aliens still going to get a free pass for their health care, while the rest of us pay for it? Slapping Americans with the biggest tax in the history of our nation; applauding the advances of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; demanding government-paid abortions and blowing away religious freedom; restricting domestic oil, natural gas and coal production and giving free reign to China to buy oil from Canada’s Keystone supplier; approving drones to fly over our own country; defunding the Space and Science Administration (NASA) and the programs; waging war on Libya without a cause; demanding the United Nations obtain out guns; Taking on the second amendment, threatening again, our right to bear arms; Running up the largest treasury deficit in the history of America; Giving BILLIONS to solar companies that have since gone bankrupt and other so called green companies; Refusing to visit Israel, throwing the Jewish people under the bus; Giving illegal’s a free ride on the backs of hardworking citizens and legal residents. Refusing to pass the ‘Legal Workforce Act and the Birthright Citizenship Act.

Further appointing a large majority of Liberal progressive czars (45 “czars” ) into office, whose doctrines are mostly Communist; Putting the enforcement of ObamaCare in the hands of…the IRS; ******* at the trough, taking 19 vacations in 3 years on ‘THE PEOPLE’S tax dollars; Incompetence of running programs as ‘Fast and Furious’ in which a U.S border agent died. Spending tens of billions in taxpayer dollars and breaking legally binding contracts to give Obama’s union colleges a big, fat payoff; Stimulating NOTHING with his stimulus plans except the wallets of big wigs on Wall Street, then giving banks foreign and domestic billions of dollars, which instead of assisting small business and other loans, poured the money into hedge funds—and his own narcissistic ego; 8% unemployment for 40 straight months; $4 billion in new debt EVERY DAY; Spending, spending, spending while lying and telling Americans we need to cut spending. NEED THE TEA PARTY SAY MORE..?

August 03 2012 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The TEA PARTY would insist on two immigration policies being passed though the Senate and House of Representatives. But more TEA PARTY leadership must gain more seats in Congress, which seems to be physically happening? Plenty of these moderate conservatives and true believers in our U.S. Constitution are ready to influence the other lawmaker’s to enact policies that assist out of work Americans. It will open up jobs for millions of low income Blacks, Hispanics, Whites Asians and all others legally here nationalities. It is passed time we enacted the ‘Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885) and the Birthright citizenship Act (H.R.140)? Isn’t it time that the state of Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and other in the 50 states protect their state borders?

We must substitute not only U.S. lawmakers, but state elected Politians to remove of all pro-illegal alien lawmakers, the Governors, Mayors, Police Chiefs and other elected officials who are catering to illegal aliens.

Every state should be able to keep its public assistance money to help our own, instead of forced by the psychosis of unfunded mandates to pay for illegal aliens and their children? Just review the illegal alien situation in the master Sanctuary State of California. AMERICANS CANNOT AFFORD TO SUBSIDIZE OTHER COUNTRIES POVERTY STRICKEN PEOPLE; JUDGE IN YOUR OWN MIND BY RESEARCHING WHAT THESE DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS HAVE PRODUCED IN THE LOS ANGELES, SAN FRANCISCO, THAT HAVE MASSIVE OUTLAYS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS A YEAR. Governors as Jerry Brown must be removed as they are in the pockets of the unions, with these big boys strengthening their power by hiring illegal aliens, which is bad news for California and the majority of other states. AMERICAN CITIZENS MUST PASS THESE TWO GREAT LAWS, IF WE ARE GOING TO GET FROM UNDER THE HEAVY DOLLARS, THE OPEN BORDER, GLOBAL GOVERNMENT, PRO-ILLEGAL ALIEN POLITICIANS.

August 03 2012 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Join your local TEA PARTY to return the government back to THE PEOPLE. Don’t let this chance to change America for the better forever. In TEXAS they have altered their pathway to a better future and with the public’s help. All those policy makers who bend the knee to the 20 million plus illegal aliens will be under an assault, when the TEA PARTY becomes an overall majority in the Republican Party. Every law that has been circumvented by Justice Department such as Sanctuary Cities and State policies, those elected officials will be held accountable. Chain migration and the never ending flood of sponsored immigrants will be re-assessed, as this ends up a taxpayer burden. The DREAM ACT will also be re-evaluated in the near future.

Also--not condemned by the mainstream Liberal Press, or Socialist Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in the forefront refusing to terminate the annual payout of $4.600.000.000.000 taxpayers’ money in child tax refunds to illegal aliens, with many children not even residing in America. Then another estimated 35 Billion dollars from illegal workers transferred to banks outside the United States, not invested in our nation? Then there is this little annual issue of state payouts of $113 Billion dollars in all these welfare programs for illegal aliens. THE TEA PARTY ARE READY TO COME TO OUR FINANCIAL RESCUE, WHILE THE OTHER PARTIES REMAIN UNCONCERNED OR DELIBERATELY EVADING THIS MASSIVE FINANCIAL PROBLEM.

Remember illegal aliens will be voting in November, if Obama’s Liberals get there way. One should also determine for themselves if Obama has a right to a second term. I cannot judge for anybody but myself and I have afforded the time as a Independent and a TEA PARTY associate to read the evidence concerning the birth records of Barack Obama. There are many irregularities to his background, that has some startling concerns for me, but THE PEOPLE should read about the investigation and then vote accordingly.

No Copyright. Tell everybody.

August 03 2012 at 6:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Mitt....another example of "successful" private sector companies ripping off the American taxpayer. As a patriotic businessman should you be speaking out against this kind of corporate welfare?

August 03 2012 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The article left out one thing.... ..anyone who can not defend themselves legally will be placed in theses prisons guilty or not... hell, one day it could be YOU!!! I'd loved to read your comments at that time.. oh I forgot you won't have access to computers ...

August 03 2012 at 6:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Okay LL, But are you making any money, I need a job bad, I can't even afford my medicines every month. We don't have enough of food, we hardly get by from one month to the next. We almost freeze in cold weather.

August 03 2012 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These people that do not speak or understand english well get a S.S. disabilty check, each family member; every month, never paid a dime in, and they home school the children, so they do not learn english, they work full time jobs. All this use to be on the inter net, and the goverment had it took off. They still get the checks and any one can prove it by asking at the S.S. office. I have neighbors that gets the checks, and one has a Aunt that gets a check, his depentent, and a check is sent to her, every month. S.S. disabilty is more then what I get, I just get S.S. for age.

August 03 2012 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply