A protest outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Wisconsin in 2014. Joe Brusky
Karina Moreno is an assistant professor in the School of Business, Public Administration and Information Sciences at Long Island Unviersity, Brooklyn campus.
Deportation has become a billion-dollar industry. Between the second quarter of 2014 and 2015, Corrections Corporations of America’s (CCA) earnings leaped by $49 million. A single CCA facility in Dilley, Texas generated $100 million in the first half of 2015 alone.
CCA can thank desperate asylum seekers from Central America for their success; the border surge motivated the Obama administration to award it a billion-dollar deal to build a family detention center for women and infants.
This is all made possible because Congress mandates that immigration enforcement fill a daily quota of beds. CCA and the GEO Group have become the two largest private contractors. The profit motive directly compromises the judicial system, as these companies are incentivized to detain as many people for as long as possible. As a result, the private deportation machine gets rich from impoverished immigrants by violating their basic rights.
In August, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a memo calling for an end to government use of private prisons. It said what public advocates and researchers have been saying for decades: that private prisons do not produce better outcomes than publicly operated ones. Many see this memo as a win, and it certainly is: everything we do to remove capitalist logic from our criminal justice system will improve it.
The memo illustrates how the carceral marketplace has shifted from the “war on drugs” to the “war on terror,” but it doesn’t go far enough. It does not cover the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has authority over immigrant detention centers. 62 percent of detained migrants are in privately run facilities. Nor does it cover state and local prisons. In the United States, 2.3 million are incarcerated. The DOJ memo moves 22,000 — just 1 percent — from private to public prisons.