27 Jun How Private Prison Companies Are Profiting Off the Immigration Crisis
President Trump’s recent zero-tolerance immigration policy that lead to the separation of migrant children from their families has drawn attention to the financial relationship between private prisons and the federal government. Over the years, private prison corporations like GEO Group and CoreCivic have donated generously to politicians and deployed expensive lobbying tactics. In return, they’ve gained huge profits and increasingly lucrative contracts with the federal government.
In 2016 under the Obama administration, over 300,000 immigrants passed through detention facilities, up from 209,000 immigrants in 2001. Three-quarters of the immigrants housed in detention were placed in privately-run facilities. This increase in immigration detainees in private prisons correlates with corporate donations from for-profit prisons. From 2003 to 2013, private prison groups donated roughly $45 million to influence the government. In 2016, GEO Group donated $475,000 to the Trump campaign and Trump’s inauguration fund. In this year alone, GEO Group and CoreCivic have donated almost $800,000 to candidates, PACs, and political parties.
While a zero-tolerance policy on immigration may be profitable for the private prison industry, it does not reflect nationa popular opinion. Recent polls from CBS News, CNN, Quinnipiac, and IPSOS reveal that two-thirds of the American public disagree with separating migrant children from their parents. According to Gallup polls, in 2017, 71 percent of Americans said that immigration was a good thing for this country. In 2016, 66 percent of Americans opposed deporting undocumented immigrants, and over half wanted the government to develop a plan to deal with undocumented immigrants already in the country. Despite public opinion, harsh immigration policies continue, and private prison companies’ multi-million dollar donations to political campaigns appear well spent as their profits soar into the billions.
The low-maintenance and harsh conditions—including alleged abuses—in for-profit prison detention facilities have gone mainstream as images of children and adults in cages have been widely circulated following the Trump administration’s decision to separate migrant children from their parents. Although this inhumane treatment of immigrants is receiving new attention under the Trump administration, it is not a new phenomenon and concerns about the standards in immigration detention centers have existed for decades.
The recent immigration crisis spurred millions of Americans to action. Many people are going to the streets to protest and donating record amounts of small donations to support immigrant children and their families. If we had a political system in which corporations and wealthy individuals couldn’t exert boundless influence and our public officials were truly working for the people, it seems likely we wouldn’t have policies that tear children away from their families to the benefit of private prisons in the first place.
To make our government more responsive to the people, small-donor public financing systems would limit the influence of big-money donors like private prisons and allow regular people to better hold the government accountable for policies that contradict their values. The Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate and the Government By the People Act in the House of Representatives would do just that. If enacted, these bills would establish a voluntary public finance system to decrease the influence of wealthy donors like GEO Group and CoreCivic and increase the importance of small donations from everyday people. Is that the kind of government you want? Click here to tell your representatives in Washington that you support these bills.