Jailing Immigrants Makes Business Boom

This fascinating article by Meredith Kolodner in The New York Times looks at the huge economic boom the increase in immigration enforcement and detention is having and will continue to have for private companies that run prisons on taxpayer dollars. Kolodner calls out The Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group as running 8 of the 16 current federal detention centers for immigrants -- as well as some county jails -- and as standing to gain most from increased business. The companies' shares have already been climbing impressively on Wall Street.

The article makes clear that the increase in detained immigrants does not owe its cause to an increase in undocumented immigration but rather to an increase in enforcement and a decline in releasing captured undocumented immigrants on their own recognizance.

The point is that many of those detained have yet to have their cases decided -- remember innocent until proven guilty? -- and yet can be held indefinitely -- without such basic rights as habeas corpus or access to counsel that we afford even the most violent alleged criminals -- as authorities mire through cases. Kolodner raises other serious concerns with this policy:

"Immigrant advocates say health care at some centers has fallen short. They contend that some centers have treated immigrants as if they are criminals — restricting their movements unnecessarily, for instance — even though many are still awaiting a ruling on their legal status.

"Because those who cross the border illegally are not considered criminals, they are not automatically assigned a lawyer. But, the advocates say, there have been repeated instances when immigrants have not had access to working phones to call for legal assistance."

The companies of course deny these claims. But beyond questions of human rights abuses and prison profiteering, there lies the simple question of the burden on the ordinary USian, one of the top reasons anti-immigration folks cite as a detriment of undocumented immigration. Treating the undocumented as criminals means not only kicking them out but includes the logistics of locking them up and processing them before deporting them. And look at this:

"The detention market is projected to increase by $200 million to $250 million over the next 12 to 18 months, according to Patrick Swindle, a managing director at Avondale L.L.C., an investment banking firm that has done business with both Geo and Corrections Corp."

We'll ignore the hopefully ironic surname of the source here and focus instead on those numbers. $200 million to $250 million in less than a year and a half? And some of those detained might even win their cases, making the money spent on them doubly wasted. Granted "catch and release" -- a rather disgusting fishing term to use on people -- might give some the opportunities to slip out of the law's grasp, but how many allegedly serious criminals do we release into freedom to await trial? (And by "serious criminals" I mean those who have allegedly done more than stand on the wrong side of an invisible line or use someone else's ID. Can you imagine the uproar if rich teens caught with fake IDs trying to enter bars and clubs were detained to await trial?)

So, those who decry more-accepting immigration policies as serving the interests of big business and burdening the American tax payers now see that stronger enforcement does not eliminate their concerns. Things get muddier.


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