Private Immigration Companies Under Scrutiny

New York — While public employees in the prison sector are sweating it out, hoping they don’t lose the perpetual game of budget bingo being played out across the country, the private prison industry that houses illegal immigrants has been flourishing.

The Associated Press points out the industry continues to grow, and is on the verge of reaching $2 billion taxpayer dollars this year, despite what the Pew Hispanic Center calls a 67 percent drop in the actual incidence of illegal immigration in recent years. Although the overall number of people entering the U.S. illegally may be down, apprehension of illegal immigrants is becoming more efficient, as the Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration has deported nearly 400,000 immigrants annually for the last three years. The Associated Press also points out that private companies have quickly grown their influence in the area, as the amount of privately owned beds in immigration-related detention centers has risen from 10 percent a decade ago to nearly 50 percent now. This level of influence came at a relative bargain, as the AP estimated the industry’s three largest companies, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and Management and Training Corp. (MTC), have spent around $45 million on lobbyists and campaign donations in the last decade. By comparison, General Motors alone has contributed roughly that much funding to lobbyists in just the last five years.

The industry’s place in the overall economy has grown significantly, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed the nightly cost of detaining illegal immigrants grew to about $166 in 2012, compared to $80 in 2004. ICE Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations, Gary Mead commented that the government had never studied whether privatizing the industry was saving money. “They are not our most expensive, they are not our cheapest,” he added.

There’s no question the move has worked out well for the companies, as CCA has gone from the brink of bankruptcy in the year 2000 to taking in $162 million in net income last year and GEO has grown its net from $16.9 million to $78.6 over that same time period. One thing these companies have in common with your average corrections worker.

The fear that taxpayers can’t keep spending at this rate. CCA’s 2011 annual earnings report reminded readers that policy changes “could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”

It’s true that there are rumblings on the horizon, as people like New York City Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro are beginning to question the efficiency of the system. Schriro prepared a report on the national detention system when she worked for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in 2009. The corrections commissioner commented that, “ICE was always relying on others for responsibilities that are fundamentally those of the government.” Furthermore, “If you don’t have the competency to know what is a fair price to ask and negotiate the most favorable rates for the best service, then the likelihood that you are going to overspend is greater,” she argued.