The Money Trail

Of the approximately 350 facilities used by the Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants, only 8 of these are ICE-owned and operated. In addition, ICE contracts with over 240 local or county facilities through intergovernmental agreements, private prison corporations and the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The delegation of the federal task of detention to private and local facilities has its origins in the 1980s during a time of accelerated privatization in all sectors. The government’s contracting out of detention management is rationalized as more efficient and cost-effective. However, detention and deportation have become multi-billion dollar industries with numerous human costs:

  • Detention contracting creates an additional layer of opaqueness in an already complex and impenetrable detention system, making oversight of detention standards and securing of detainee rights even more difficult.
  • The delegation of detention management reduces ICE’s incentive to utilize more humane alternatives to detention, even though alternatives may be more cost-effective.
  • Private companies and local governments vie for contracts to expand ICE detention bed space at an average price of $122/day per bed in a process that both lines corporate pockets with taxpayer money and turns human beings into commodities.
  • The use of prisons, local jails, and private prison companies for immigration detention further enmeshes immigrants in the criminal justice system, attaching a stigma of criminalization to persons who are in civil administrative proceedings.
  • Detention contracting allows both the federal government and contract facilities to cut financial corners in providing immigrants with adequate care and basic necessities, resulting in regular reports of egregious detention conditions that violate U.S. and international human rights laws.

Who Profits?

Private Prison Corporations

Revenues and stock prices are skyrocketing for private prison companies that build immigration prisons, like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, Inc. These companies have an incentive to urge the government to build more jails, and in fact, regularly lobby in Washington, DC for more detention, even if it is not the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.

The first private prison in the U.S. was an immigration detention center. In 1983, CCA won the first federal contract to build a facility in Houston, Texas. Before the facility was even finished, CCA began detaining immigrants in rented motel rooms. Both the Houston Processing Center and the Wackenhut-operated (a division of GEO Group) Aurora Processing Center opened in 1984.

Ohio Congressman Ted Strickland, a former correctional officer, testified in 2000: “For-profit prisons have created a multi-billion dollar industry and are as likely to be traded on Wall Street as be listed as defendants in litigation.”

[Source: Mark Dow, American Gulag (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2004)]

Corrections Corporation of America

“We’ve never seen the wind at our back like it is today.”

-CCA President and CEO John D. Ferguson, May 2006

CCA is number one in America for detention contracts, and has made record profits every year since 2003. CCA boasts being the sixth largest corrections system in the U.S., behind only 4 states and the federal government. CCA operates 65 facilities in 19 states and the District of Columbia with more than 75,000 beds and nearly 17,000 employees. 12 of CCA’s facilities are used to hold immigration detainees.

CCA has been able to charge up to $200/day per bed in the Don T. Hutto family detention facility in Texas.

In 2009, CCA earned $1.67 billion in revenue with a net income of $155 million.

CCA Website

GEO Group, Inc.

GEO Group is one of the largest security firms in the world and the nation’s second largest for-profit prison operator. GEO operates 50 facilities in 16 states and one in Guantanamo Bay.

In 2008, GEO Group earned $1.14 billion in U.S. revenue with a net income of $59.8 million.

GEO Group Website, North American Facilities

Other Security Firms with ICE Contracts

Cornell Corrections, Inc.

Management and Training Corporation

City and County Governments

Over 240 city and county governments across the country have contracts with ICE to set aside bed space for immigrants. Many seek out such contracts with the aim of generating extra revenue, which only furthers the commoditization of immigrant detainees. 67% of immigrants in administrative ICE custody are housed in local facilities, often alongside prisoners serving criminal sentences.


The Business of Detention: Cracking Down on Immigration and Locking Up Profits

Texas Prison Bid’ness

Grassroots Leadership

Related Articles

“Detention Dollars,”, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 4, 2008.

"Imprisoning Immigrants for Profit", Counterpunch, March 13-15, 2009.

“Why Texas Still Holds ‘Em”, Mother Jones, July/August 2008.

Attached Below: “The Immigrant Gold Rush: The Profit Motive Behind Immigrant Detention,” submitted to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants by Judy Greene, Justice Strategies and Sunita Patel, Soros Justice Fellow.

unsr_profitmotives.pdf40.33 KB