It’s an little-known issue that is slowly getting a lot of attention in the immigration reform world, making headlines for how nonsensical and inefficient it is—and how many Republican Congressmen are continuing to defend it.
It’s the detention bed mandate, which we wrote about last month and which has also been covered recently by Bloomberg and the Washington Post, among others. A little-known provision of US immigration detention policy forces ICE to fill an average of 34,000 beds in detention centers every night. The law requires this quota to be filled regardless of how many immigrants are actually coming across the border or whether those who are in detention have actually committed any crimes requiring them to be there. The mandate means that ICE spends $159 per day per detainee, when many of them could await a court date or deportation ruling from home, monitored by ankle bracelets or home visit, which would cost as little as 70 cents a day.
Got that? The immigration detention industry is funneling taxpayer money into keeping an absolute number of immigrants in detention every day, when much cheaper and more humane methods exist. It’s like if the US required that a certain number of people be locked up in prison every day, regardless of what actual crime rates are or if those people deserve to be in prison.
And yet there are Republican Congressmen who defend the mandate, such as Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Michael McCaul of Texas (the House Homeland Security Committee chairman), who told ICE officials in February that they were “in clear violation of statute” when the detainee population nationwide fell to 30,773 after 2,200 were released to save money.
Cui bono? Private prisons like Corrections Corp and Geo Group, both of which serve as government jailers and have both doubled in value since mid-2010. And the profit they make from the immigrant detention industry has been trickling down to members of Congress, who have received at least $132,500 since the 2008 elections from the three biggest prison operations (Corrections Corp, Geo, and Management & Training Corp). According to Bloomberg, most of the contributions were made by Corrections Corp and nearly half went to Republicans like Rep. Hal Rogers (KY), John Carter (TX), Robert Aderholt (AL), and John Culberson (TX).
View contributions from Corrections Corp via OpenSecrets here.
Perhaps most worrying is this comment from Corrections Corp President and CEO Damon Hininger, who said back in February that he’s not worried about the immigration detention and deportation industry, even if immigration reform were to pass. “I think…there’s always going to be a demand for beds,” he said on a call for investors in response to a question about the prospect of immigration reform. “There is always going to be strong demand regardless of what is being done at the national level as far as immigration reform.”
View this graphic from Bloomberg on how immigration detention centers have been a boon for the US private prison industry.