Payoff How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota
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Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota

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In 2009, in the midst of a multi-year decline in the undocumented immigrant population,[1] Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), then Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, inserted the following language regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) detention budget into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2010: “…funding made available under this heading shall maintain a level of not less than 33,400 detention beds.”[2] This directive established what would become a controversial policy interpreted by ICE as a mandate to contract for and fill 33,400 (increased in 2013 to 34,000)[3] detention beds on a daily basis. The directive would come to be known as the “immigrant detention quota” or “bed mandate.” The immigration detention quota is unprecedented; no other law enforcement agency operates under a detention quota mandated by Congress.

Since its implementation, the quota has become a driver of an increasingly aggressive immigration enforcement strategy. The immigrant detention system has expanded significantly since the implementation of the quota, and the percent of the detained population held in private facilities has increased even more dramatically. Two major private prison corporations have emerged as the main corporate beneficiaries of immigrant detention policies: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group.

This report provides an in-depth assessment of the inception and implementation of the quota, with a specific focus on the role played by for-profit, private prison corporations. These companies have profited handsomely from the artificial stability provided by the quota while contributing millions of dollars in federal lobbying expenditures and in campaign contributions to ensure their interests are met. This report also features testimony from people directly impacted by detention and deportation, revealing the momentous human cost of the quota.

Key Findings:

  1. Private prison corporations have increased their share of the immigrant detention industry. Since just before the onset of the quota, the private prison industry has increased its share of immigrant detention beds by 13 percent. Sixty-two percent[4] of all ICE immigration detention beds in the United States are now operated by for-profit prison corporations, up from 49 percent in 2009[5]. Nine of the ten largest ICE detention centers are private[6]. This is particularly noteworthy in light of the expansion of the entire ICE detention system by nearly 47 percent in the last decade[7].
  2. Private prison corporations lobby on immigration and immigrant detention issues that affect their bottom line. Contrary to private prison corporation claims that they do not lobby on issues related to immigration policy, between 2008 and 2014, CCA spent $10,560,000 in quarters where they lobbied on issues related to immigrant detention and immigration reform.[8],[9] Of that amount, CCA spent $9,760,000, — 61 percent of total private prison lobbying expenditures — in quarters where they directly lobbied the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee,[10],[11] which maintains the immigrant detention quota language and shapes the way in which it is interpreted. Lobbying disclosure forms reveal spending on: “Issues related to comprehensive immigration reform” (GEO Group, 2013), and “FY 2014 and FY 2015 Department of Homeland Security appropriations – provisions related to privately-operated ICE detention facilities” (CCA, 2014).[12] Since 2010, CCA has spent at least 75 percent of its lobbying expenditures in quarters where it has lobbied directly on the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee.[13] Though GEO Group has not directly lobbied the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee, the company recently began lobbying on immigration and immigrant detention issues, spending $460,000 between 2011 and 2014 in quarters when they lobbied on these issues.[14]
  3. Two private prison corporations — CCA and GEO Group — dominate the immigration detention industry. Together, they operate eight of the ten largest immigrant detention centers. GEO and CCA combined operate 72 percent of the privately contracted ICE immigrant detention beds.[15] In the years following the implementation of the immigrant detention quota, CCA and GEO expanded their share of the total ICE immigrant detention system from 37 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2014.[16] GEO Group in particular has increased its share of the total ICE immigrant detention system to 25 percent in FY14 from 15 percent in FY10.[17] Both companies have significantly augmented their profits since the implementation of the quota, CCA from $133,373,000[18] in 2007 to $195,022,000 in 2014.[19] GEO experienced an even more dramatic profit increase from $41,845,000[20] in 2007 to $143,840,000 in 2014, a 244 percent increase.[21]
  4. CCA and GEO have recently expanded their immigrant detention capacity, including new contracts for detaining asylum-seeking families. Since FY2014, the most recent numbers released by ICE, both CCA and GEO have both expanded their capacity for detaining women and children in new family detention centers[22] in South Texas.[23] The CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley opened in December 2014 and currently holds about 480 women and children. It is under expansion to grow to an expected capacity of 2,400 by May 2015. If this expansion proceeds, Dilley will be the largest immigrant detention center in the U.S.[24] The GEO-run Karnes County Residential Center opened in June 2014 and now holds around 600 women and children, but will expand to a capacity of 1,200.[25] Additionally, in January 2015, GEO acquired LCS Corrections, which owns several large immigrant detention facilities in Texas and Louisiana, further increasing its share of the immigrant detention business.[26]

Recommendations:

  1. Congress should eliminate the immigrant detention quota from its 2016 appropriations request.
  2. ICE should reduce reliance on for-profit prison contractors. Congress should increase oversight within the contracting system and launch a system-wide review of the contracted prisons and their related intergovernmental service agreements.
  3. ICE should end contracts at facilities with a record of abuse and penalize contractors found to have multiple incidents of abuse or mismanagement in their facilities.
  4. Congress and the Administration should prioritize policies that expand the use of non-punitive, community-supported alternative to detention (ATD) programs. However, these measures must be used in place of current detention capacity, not in addition to it. The intent of any ATD program should be to reduce the population in immigration detention, with the ultimate goal of eliminating the immigration detention system entirely.
  1. U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Population Trends, 1990-2012. (2013, September 23). Pew Research Centers Hispanic Trends Project.
  2. Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2010. (2009, October 28). Government Printing Office.
  3. Immigrant detention bed quota timeline. (2014, March 20). National Immigrant Justice Center.
  4. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ERO Custody Management Division. List of facilities analyzed by Grassroots Leadership from documents titled “DMCP Authorized Facilities” and “ICE Authorized Facilities Matrix.” March 5, 2015.
  5. Expose & Close: Executive Summary. (n.d.). Detention Watch Network.
  6. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ERO Custody Management Division. List of facilities analyzed by Grassroots Leadership from documents titled “DMCP Authorized Facilities” and “ICE Authorized Facilities Matrix.” March 5, 2015.
  7. Grassroots Leadership calculation from http://www.ice.gov/doclib/foia/reports/ero-facts-and-statistics.pdf (2007) and analysis of “ICE Authorized Facilities Matrix” document (2014). March 5, 2015.
  8. Grassroots Leadership analysis of LDA Reports (n.d.). U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records.
  9. Immigration issues lobbying calculations include the amount lobbied in quarters when issues related to immigration were among the issues listed in the corporation’s disclosure form. A significant but unknown portion of lobbying expenditures in these quarters was spent on immigration issues. Lobbying directed at alternatives to detention (ankle bracelet monitoring and regular check-ins with law enforcement) has been excluded from all calculations of immigration lobbying for the purposes of more accurately tracking detention, although GEO does have a direct profit incentive in alternatives to detention through its subsidiary BI Technologies. Additionally, vaguely defined lobbying issues referencing detention (ex. Issues pertaining to the construction and management of privately-operated prisons and detention facilities) have been excluded.
  10. Grassroots Leadership analysis of LDA Reports (n.d.). U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records.
  11. DHS appropriations lobbying calculations include the amount lobbied in quarters when DHS appropriations was among the issues the corporation listed in their lobbying disclosure form. A significant but unknown portion of lobbying expenditures in these quarters was spent on DHS appropriations.
  12. LDA Reports (n.d.). U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records.
  13. Grassroots Leadership analysis of LDA Reports (n.d.). U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ERO Custody Management Division. List of facilities analyzed by Grassroots Leadership from document titled “ICE Authorized Facilities Matrix.” March 5, 2015.
  16. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ERO Custody Management Division. List of facilities analyzed by Grassroots Leadership from documents titled “DMCP Authorized Facilities” and “ICE Authorized Facilities Matrix.” March 5, 2015.
  17. Ibid.
  18. CCA 10-K SEC filing, February 2008.
  19. CCA 10-K SEC filing, February 2015
  20. GEO 10-K SEC filing February 2008.
  21. GEO 10-K SEC filing, February 2015.
  22. Detention facilities for asylum-seeking mothers with children apprehended crossing the southern border
  23. GEO’s Karnes County Residential Center is included in FY14 data, but has an ADP of only 84, a fraction of the women and children detained at Karnes today. CCA’s South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX did not yet exist at the close of FY14. Instead, FY14 statistics reflect family detention at Artesia Family Residential Center in New Mexico, an ICE-run facility that was closed in December 2014.
  24. Will Weissert, “Texas immigration family lockup will be nation’s largest,” The Associated Press, December 15, 2014.
  25. Jessie Degollado, “Karnes County approves family detention expansion,” KSAT, December 16, 2014
  26. Emma Randles. The GEO Group acquires LCS Corrections, expanding their reach in Texas. Texas Prison Bid’ness. January 27, 2015.