[Vanilla Vice] Expanding the Number of Non-White Immigrants in Jails isn’t just Policy; it’s Big Business. $800 Million in Taxpayer Money Went to Private Prisons Where Prisoners Work for Pennies


From [DailyBeast] For $3 a day, Yesica works the graveyard shift in the kitchens of the for-profit immigration prison where she is locked up.

Each morning, at 1 a.m., the guards of the Joe Corley Detention Facility in southeast Texas rouse Yesica and the 35 other women who share a dormitory-style room. Work begins an hour later and lasts through sunrise, ending at 8 a.m. Yesica does everything from cooking breakfast, to serving her fellow detainees, to cleaning up.

Even at $3, toiling in the kitchen pays better than sweeping prison corridors, which pays the Immigration and Customs Enforcement-stipulated minimum of $1 a day. The work, officially speaking, isn’t mandatory. But “since there’s absolutely nothing to do” inside, Yesica said, detainees work to keep at bay the stress of not knowing when they’ll be released—or if they’ll be deported.

Yesica, 23, fled her native El Salvador after MS-13 persecuted her for being a lesbian. The brutal gang, which the Trump administration uses to demonize immigrants like her, murdered her father, and she came to the United States to seek the safety of rejoining family here. She has instead spent the last two years locked inside ICE’s prisons.

“This is a really terrible place,” Yesica told The Daily Beast through a translator from the Corley center. “It’s inhumane. It’s like a torture chamber.”

These are dangerous times for undocumented immigrants. ICE has been super-charged by the Trump administration. And ICE’s empowerment has been lucrative for the companies that both cage and employ immigrants like Yesica.

A Daily Beast investigation found that in 2018 alone, for-profit immigration detention was a nearly $1 billion industry underwritten by taxpayers and beset by problems that include suicide, minimal oversight, and what immigration advocates say uncomfortably resembles slave labor.

Being in the U.S. illegally is a misdemeanor offense, and immigration detention is technically a civil matter, not a criminal process. But the reality looks much different. The Daily Beast reported last month that as of Oct. 20, ICE was detaining an average of 44,631 people every day, an all-time high. Now ICE has told The Daily Beast that its latest detention numbers are even higher: 44,892 people as of Dec. 8. Its budget request for the current fiscal year anticipates detaining 52,000 people daily.

Expanding the number of immigrants rounded up into jails isn’t just policy; it’s big business. Yesica’s employer and jailer, the private prisons giant GEO Group, expects its earnings to grow to $2.3 billion this year. Like other private prison companies, it made large donations to President Trump’s campaign and inaugural.  

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Pinning down the size and scope of the immigration prison industry is obscured by government secrecy. But the Daily Beast combed through ICE budget submissions and other public records to compile as comprehensive a list as possible of what for-profit prisons charge taxpayers to lock up a growing population, and how many people those facilities detain on average. The result: For 19 privately owned or operated detention centers for which The Daily Beast could find recent pricing data, ICE paid an estimated $807 million in fiscal year 2018.

Those 19 prisons hold 18,000 people—meaning that for-profit prisons currently lock up about 41 percent of the 44,000 people detained by ICE. But that’s not a comprehensive total, and the true figures are likely significantly higher. The National Immigrant Justice Center estimated that for November 2017, roughly 71 percent of immigrant detainees, then a smaller total figure, were held in 33 privately operated jails like the Joe Corley detention center in Texas where Yesica resides.

Providing a comprehensive tally of ICE detention centers is difficult. The Department of Homeland Security claims ICE operates “nearly 250,” but a study earlier this month for the American Immigration Council found 638 sites, more than twice the DHS figure. ICE told The Daily Beast it uses 205 facilities, citing information on its website that immigration researchers consider incomplete and misleading. Separating out the privately run facilities is even more difficult, since some of ICE’s state and local partnership prisons are run by for-profit companies, and complete lists are frustratingly difficult to find. In response to The Daily Beast’s queries, ICE said it could not provide a full breakdown of contractor-operated immigration prisons.

“Ensuring there are sufficient beds available to meet the current demand for detention space is crucial to the success of ICE’s overall mission. Accordingly, the agency is continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody,” said ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett. [MORE]