Immigration Detention, Inc.

Denise Gilman & Luis A. Romero
Date of Publication: 
January, 2018
Source Organization: 
Center for Migration Studies

Some 350,000 immigrants are detained each year by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and about 30,000 immigrants are in detention on any day. Private prison corporations increasingly manage and profit from rising immigrant detention. Managing immigrant detention is a money-making business for corporations like the GEO Group, which opened a family detention facility in 2014 and soon after had $30 million in increased quarterly profits. The CoreCivic prison company had $245 million in revenue in one year from family detention.

Prison companies lobby governments to expand their role and profitability, spending $1.5 million in lobbying in 2014 compared to close to zero dollars in 2006. The prison industry has persuaded Congress to mandate a daily immigration detention quota, which incentivizes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fill detention beds it has already paid for. In Texas, the GEO group nearly convinced the state legislature to grant them a childcare license; the company sought the license because "the licensing process (would) allow longer lengths of stay" for families in detention. Data from one private facility showed that ICE decisions on bond amounts and length of detention fluctuate to keep detention beds filled.

The authors argue that the detention system is rife with "economic inequality," as release from detention often depends on whether an immigrant can afford to post bond. Private companies seek immigrant detention contracts in part because nationally there is a trend away from incarceration contracts with private firms for the general prison population, and the overall U.S. prison population is declining. Paradoxically, expansion of private detention occurs while irregular border crossings and the overall undocumented population are actually in decline. The article concludes with a number of recommendations, including the scaling back of private prison contracting, which "should be the rare exception rather than the rule."  (Rob Paral, Rob Paral and Associates)

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Gilman, D., & Romero, L. A. (2018). Immigration Detention, Inc. Journal on Migration and Human Security, 6(2), 145-160.