$2.7Billion immigrant detainee price tag


An Investigative Report By
Michael Derek Roberts

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will spend an estimated $2.7 billion of taxpayer money to detain – not deport – over 58,000 undocumented immigrants for fiscal year 2018. And the private prison industrial complex, in particular two major prison businesses, are cashing in – big time. It may come as a shock to most Americans that this is very big business and that the majority of prisons in the United States are not run by the government but a conglomerate of for-profit prison companies that have been benefiting from the Trump Administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy.

One such company is The GEO Group, Inc. It is a Florida-based company specializing in privatized corrections, detentions, and mental health treatment and stress control prisons and centers. GEO Group maintains and runs facilities in North America, Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. In 2015, the GEO Group’s contracts with the U.S. federal government for operating prisons generated about 45% of its revenues. GEO Group facilities include prisons of all three security levels, immigration detention centers, minimum-security detention centers, and mental-health and residential-treatment housing.

Who’s detained?

From published reports and watchdog groups comes the damning statistic that in the U.S. more than 300,000 immigrants are detained each year. And nearly three-fourths of those picked up each day are kept in privately run jails and prisons, according to ICE reports. Most of the people in ICE detention centers are from Mexico, Central America, India, and China. They include adults and children and they’re held for up to 2 months on average. However, some are detained for years with no right to an attorney or due process. Since these are private prisons (property) federal oversight is lax, sloppy or non-existent with reports of many kinds of abuses. Still, according to an internal ICE report from July 2016, fewer than half of the people booked into immigration detention that year were convicted of a crime.

The other major United States prison company that profits from immigrant pain is yet another one that most Americans never heard of – CoreCivic. Formerly called the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), this company owns and manages a slew of private prisons, detention centers, and operates other similar facilities on a concession basis. CoreCivic was co-founded in 1983 by Thomas Beasley, a Tennessee Republican Party chairman, Robert Crants and Don Hutto.

As of 2016, the company was the second largest private corrections company in the United States. CoreCivic manages more than 65 state and federal correctional and detention facilities with a capacity of more than 90,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The company’s revenue in 2012 exceeded $1.7 billion. By 2015, its contracts with federal correctional and detention authorities generated up to 51% of its revenues. It then operated 22 federal facilities with the capacity for 25,851 prisoners. By 2016, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) along with GEO Group was running “more than 170 prisons and detention centers”. CCA’s revenues in 2015 were $1.79bn.

CCA has been the subject of much controversy over the years, mostly related to apparent attempts to save money, such as hiring inadequate staff, extensive lobbying, and lack of proper cooperation with legal entities to avoid repercussions. CCA rebranded as CoreCivic amid the ongoing scrutiny of the private prison industry.

Today with the administration’s immigration crackdown in full swing, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) forecast that 2018 will bring a 23 percent increase over the already historic number of people it locked up daily in 2017. That’s good news for companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group, which take in millions of dollars from ICE to house people awaiting immigration or asylum hearings. And they’re already planning to expand, with proposals for new private detention centers  and prisons from Minnesota to Texas.

Profiteering Numbers

Out of every 100 immigration detainees 32 are in GEO Group centers and 21 are in CoreCivic facilities. 21 are in other private facilities and 26 are in public jails.  

The Path To Today’s Immigration Pain

  • 1996: President Bill Clinton signs legislation expanding mandatory immigration detention.
  • 2004: The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act ramps up immigration detention capacity by 32,000 beds.
  • 2010: Congress sets a quota for the number of immigration detention beds.
  • 2012: GEO Group, the nation’s largest prison company, hires a senior executive who was previously assistant director of enforcement and removal for ICE—one of several revolving-door hires between ICE and private prison companies.
  • 2014: Corrections Corporation of America (now CoreCivic) announces its new South Texas Family Residential Center, which by 2016 would provide 14 percent of total company revenue. Immigrant advocates brand it a “baby jail.”
  • 2016: After the Obama Justice Department says it will cease contracting with private prisons, a Department of Homeland Security council votes to stop using private facilities to detain immigrants. A GEO Group subsidiary gives $225,000 to a pro-Trump super-PAC. GEO Group and CoreCivic each donate $250,000 to President Donald Trump’s inauguration fund.
  • 2017: The Trump administration says it will continue to work with private prisons. GEO Group and CoreCivic spend $2.6 million on federal lobbying. The immigration court backlog swells to more than 650,000 cases before 292 judges.

From 2003 to 2013, private prison groups donated roughly $45 million to influence the U.S. 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 mostly Republican candidates, PACs, and political parties.

Since 2017, CoreCivic has received $225 million in ICE funding to manage immigrant detention facilities. GEO Group has been paid $560 million over the last two fiscal years for contracts they hold with ICE.


While GEO makes huge profits keeping immigrants detained, the company also makes money once they’re released. A large share of ICE’s payments to GEO in 2017 went to BI Inc., a subsidiary that provides ankle bracelets and monitoring services to track those awaiting trial for immigration violations.

BI first received an ICE contract in 2008 and was paid $10 million that year. Payments have grown steadily since then, topping out at $115 million in the 2017 fiscal year. 2018 totals are on track to surpass that.

MVM Inc., a Virginia-based private security contractor, has earned $115 million since 2017 through immigration-related ICE contracts. The company provided “security guards and patrol services” for $53.7 million, according to the contract description.

Profiting From Detaining Children 

Federal data suggest migrant children have been sent to nonprofit residential centers stretching from Seattle to New York and Chicago to Miami. The contracts were awarded through HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for custody of the children.

For example, look no further than the money trail left by a few non-profit organizations. BCFS Health and Human Services, a multinational network of nonprofits based in San Antonio, has received $121 million this year in HHS grants to shelter unaccompanied children. The grants and services include:

  • $36.8 million for 461 beds in the Texas border-area towns of Harlingen, La Feria and Raymondville.
  • $19.3 million for 359 beds in San Antonio, Chavaneaux and Baytown, Texas
  • $3.9 million for 18 “male beds” in California

The nonprofit conglomerate also received a $10 million grant for 1,152 “home study cases” and 4,000 “post release cases,” according to the HHS descriptions.

Cayuga Centers, a New York-based nonprofit, was awarded $39 million for “transitional foster care submission.” Facilities for the detained children included Cayuga Centers in Harlem, which New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said was housing 239 unaccompanied minors, including children as young as 9 months old, The New York Times reported   

Other nonprofits with 2018 grant funding to care for unaccompanied minors include:

  • Heartland Human Care Services, of Chicago: $40.2 million for “shelter” and “post release and home study services”
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service of Baltimore: $19.8 million for “shelter and fingerprinting services” as well as “long term foster care”
  • Florence Crittenton Services, of Fullerton: $4.2 million for “residential shelter” in California
  • Pioneer Human Services, of Seattle: $2.8 million for 23 beds in the Seattle/Tacoma area

It’s unclear if and when the thousands of displaced children will be reunited with their parents.












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