Immigrants are Cash Cows for Private Prisons

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on August 03, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The crackdown on undocumented immigrants comes with a high cost to tax payers but it's a profitable business for private prison companies.

The U.S. detains 400,000 immigrants each year, some of whom end up becoming legal permanent residents. Holding all those people is expected to cost taxpayers $2 billion this year.

The number of immigrants has largely outgrown the beds available in government owned prisons so many end up in private facilities.

That choice isn't necessarily cost-effective.

Private prison companies argue that they offer a cheaper option which saves the government money, reports the Associated Press. But the government has never studied whether privatization is a good choice financially.

What is known is how much it costs taxpayers.

The average nightly total for housing an undocumented immigrant in prison is $166, a number which ICE confirmed to The Associated Press. In 2004, that number was $80.

It's not necessarily fair to blame the private prison industry for making money off a necessary service. But these companies also spend a significant amount of lobbying lawmakers and donating to campaigns.

Immigration advocates think there's a link between the donations and anti-immigrant policies.

Private prisons gave heavily to the Republican Party and congressional leaders who in some way support stronger immigration policies and higher detention rates, according to Associated Press. They also strongly against new legal policies that would require them to comply with open records requirements.

The donations aren't illegal under modern campaign finance rules.

Companies are permitted to hire lobbyists and donate money to campaigns. In federal affairs they have to disclose the amount spent but not all states require spending disclosure.

Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies in the country, says they don't lobby on issues that affect an individual's detention.

Corporate money in politics isn't illegal but it does leave a bad taste in the mouths of some.

Still, private prisons alone can't dictate immigration policy. If public sentiment against undocumented immigrants continues it may cost us more than we expected.

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