Immigrant Detention, Private Prisons and Minimum Occupancy Quotas


Current border policies and legislation are fixed to a framework of criminalization and punishment. Through “prevention through deterrence” strategies employed by the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, such as the Consequence Delivery System and Operation Streamline, immigration policy is approached from a criminal justice standpoint. Under “zero-tolerance” guidelines unauthorized entry is treated as a federal misdemeanor, unauthorized re-entry, a felony. Detention and deportation are used as punishments in order to dissuade potential attempts to re-enter the U.S.

Within this system, migrants are denied due process and prosecuted en masse in accelerated trials wherein the judges are stripped of prosecutorial discretion. This process of criminalization in turn feeds into increasing rates of detention that are even further augmented by increasing collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration agents. The articles, reports and short films below provide in-depth analysis of how these policies are imbued with exploitation for the sake of corporate interests.

No More Deaths Prison Industrial Complex Fact Sheet reviews basic tenets of the prison industrial complex and how it relates to immigration in regards to detention and policy.

Brave New Films’ short documentary “Immigrants for Sale” exposes the complexities of the private prison industry in relation to the commodification of undocumented immigrants. “Immigrants for Sale” explains how corporate interests affect state and federal policies in order to engender mass incarceration. The video addresses the connections between private prison companies and state and federal policies including a discussion of Arizona’s SB 1070, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), political lobbying, Geo Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well as an examination of the harsh conditions within the detention centers and the relationship between these detention centers and the surrounding communities.

Grassroots Leadership report Payoff: How Congress Ensures Private Prison Profit with an Immigrant Detention Quota” summarizes the origins of the immigrant detention quota and the privatization of the immigrant detention industry, examines the largest private prison corporations (GEO Group & CCA), pointing to how they lobby to increase profits, and attends to the human rights abuses that occur within detention facilities.

Detention Watch Network & The Center for Constitutional Rights report Banking on Detention: Local Lockup Quotas and the Immigration Dragnet provides well-needed insight on the system of minimum occupancy quotas at immigration detention facilities throughout the country. These quotas act as contractual incentives or monetary obligations on behalf of the government to pay for a set number of detention beds. According to the report,

local lockup quotas that serve to protect the bottom line of private companies thus incentivize the imprisonment of immigrants.

Culpable” addresses how corporations profit from the criminalization of immigrants and how anti-immigration sentiments are used to influence policies and in turn increase detention populations. As the video states, “CCA has made $208 million in revenues just from contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It has also spent $23 million in lobbying over the last decade.” The short documentary explains how persecution “punishment” policies and sentencing laws such as those initiated by Operation Streamline are linked to the interests of for-profit incarceration corporations. The video features Caroline Isaacs of American Friends Service Committee, the former Arizona senator, Dennis DeConcini and Margo Cowan, the Pima County Public Defender.

This AlterNet piece by Peter Cervantes-Gautschi “How the For-Profit Corporate Prison Lobby Killed Immigration Reform” speaks to how corporations that profit from the incarceration of immigrants surreptitiously lobby to prevent pro-immigrant laws from passing and advance anti-immigrant legislation that augments the criminalization of immigrants. This corporate power therefore is reliant on the manipulation of legislators.

In the report “Do Private Prisons Distort Justice? Evidence on Time Served and Recidivism,” Anita Mukherjee confirms that private prisons increase prisoners’ sentences by awarding more prisoners with infractions, which delay their release. Similarly, these extended sentences have no impact on the reduction of recidivism. Instead, private prisons operate in a manner attuned to profit enlargement, meaning increasing the number of people in need of imprisonment boosts profit.

NNIRR has signed onto several campaigns working to divest and defund the Private Prison Industry: