Our currently dysfunctional immigration system will not change anytime soon because detaining the undocumented is a billion-dollar industry.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains close to half a million undocumented aliens – a five-fold increase since 1994.
This rapid increase can best be measured by looking at the “custody” line of the federal budget, which doubled from $860 million in 2005 to $1.72 billion in 2009.
To fix immigration and make it more just would mean that a few private companies will lose a great deal of money.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the detention facilities for the undocumented are contracted.
A 2009 report shows that 75 percent of the 17 most populous facilities are managed by private firms, and they house more than 50 percent of all detainees.
The two major corporations that have mostly benefited from this arrangement are Correction Corporation of America and the GEO Group – to the tune of $325 million in 2008 ICE contracts.
In 2009, they charged ICE $95 a day to house an undocumented inmate, while their actual cost was as low as $12 a day (not including medical attention and transportation costs).
If detention numbers were to decrease, their stock values would also drop.
The main concern for these private detention corporations is not to provide humanitarian living conditions but to increase their corporate profits. This can only occur when basic services are cut so as to reduce actual costs.
Substandard living conditions can be maintained with impunity because there are no substantive legislative or regulatory standards governing detention conditions. In other words, no oversight of these private detention facilities exists.
The Department of Homeland Security’s internal standards, according to the UCLA Law Review, are poorly enforced and often not even binding.
And those more likely to complain, or even bring legal proceedings against these firms, are deported.
The most vulnerable are at the mercy of the corporations that profit by their detention.
Should we really be surprised that the undocumented face inhuman conditions during their U.S. incarceration?
Over the years, Amnesty International has documented how these inmates are routinely denied food, water and medical attention while being exposed to verbal, physical and psychological abuse.
Many human rights organizations, legal scholars and the United Nations have meticulously documented how the United States consistently violates international human rights.
Take, for example, Victoria Arellano, a transgendered woman diagnosed with HIV. While being held by ICE in San Pedro, Calif., she was denied medication, which led to her death.
Or Edimar Alves Araujo, held by ICE in Providence, R.I. While his sister begged unhearing and uncaring authorities to provide him with the medication she brought for him, he was dying of an epileptic seizure.
And, of course, how can we ignore Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix, of whom Mayor Phil Gordon accused of “infring[ing] on civil rights of residents.”
Arpaio is best known for making undocumented male inmates wear pink panties and feeding all the undocumented rotten food, specifically spoiled bologna.
Our treatment of humans within detention facilities for the undocumented contributes to the greatest human rights violations occurring today within our borders. We should be outraged at this wrong.
However, this injustice will continue thanks to the power of political lobbyists. The corporate desire to maintain, if not increase, the bottom line has led to fierce competition on Capitol Hill (and state houses throughout the nation) to increase incarceration.
Millions are spent to lobby Congress to maintain and introduce laws that will ensure a steady stream of undocumented aliens flowing though detention centers.
Because these facilities are paid by the day, there exists no motivation to then quickly repatriate them – just detain them.
Do not expect any type of comprehensive immigration reform to be introduced in Congress.
If a path to citizenship were to be enacted, millions upon millions of dollars going to companies like Correction Corporation of America and the GEO Group would dry up.
No doubt that for some lawmakers, their anti-immigration stance can be credited to anti-Hispanic sentiments.
But for others, their motivation may be fueled more by political contributions than personal biases.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.