Immigration is a hot topic in American politics yet again, and both Republicans and Democrats are working toward a bipartisan solution to address the issue. However, the reform may not improve the situation for the millions of illegal immigrants residing in the U.S., in part because of strong lobbying efforts from the private prison industry.
Two of the men tasked with spearheading the reform, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are sympathetic to what the private prison industry thinks about the proposed ideas. McCain has received $127,000 over his career from the industry, and Rubio has taken $33,000. This is in addition to the estimated $45 million the three major private prison corporations are estimated to have spent over the last decade to influence state and federal legislation.
The government generally outsources the incarceration of illegal immigrants to private companies, and this trend has been a boon for the private prison industry, which receives $441.9 million a year from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and $296.9 million a year from Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts. Approximately 400,000 illegal immigrants are detained each year, and the detentions cost taxpayers about $2 billion annually.
In the past, illegal border crossers, each time they were caught, went through a civil deportation proceeding and were simply sent out of country. Operation Streamline, a program started in 2005 by the Bush administration, began a process of detaining them six months for the first offense and up to 20 years for the second offense.
In 2010, Arizona Senate Bill 1070 created a harsh new judicial framework for detaining illegal aliens within the state, a framework the private prison industry helped create. Hundreds of thousands more people being sent to prison meant hundreds of millions of dollars for the companies tasked with housing them. The bill spawned copycat legislation in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Utah and South Carolina.
On Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called a release of criminal immigrants by ICE “a federally sponsored jailbreak.” ICE states the decision was due to budget restraints. And as the government reduces its capacity to incarcerate illegal aliens, private prison companies will be poised to fill the gap.
The industry has a financial stake in the ongoing debate on immigration and stands to lose tens of millions of dollars if Congress passes any reform that widens the path to citizenship. Where do you stand on immigration reform?
For more on this story, watch Current TV tonight at 6E/3P. Also on tonight’s show, Michael Shure and Lee Fang, contributing writer, The Nation. Fang has investigated the private prison industry and the politicians who benefit from it. Also, Current TV correspondent David Shuster, Rep. Stephen Cohen, D-Tenn., political analyst Carla Marinucci and political strategist Donnie Fowler, will weigh in on topics ranging from the sequester to the California GOP.