As immigration laws have become tougher, the federal government has found itself with a logistical challenge: where to house a population that has swollen to more than 30,000 detainees. The solution, says the San Diego Union-Tribune: Turn them over to the private sector. Detention contracts have helped turn once-ailing private prison companies into a multibillion-dollar growth industry with record revenues, healthy stock prices and ambitious expansion plans. On average, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement saves more than $31 per day, per person, by using a contract detention facility rather than an agency-run one. For ICE, it’s a way to save potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year while having ready access to more beds.
In the past year, ICE and its contractors have come under fire for alleged mistreatment of immigrants. In San Diego last year, the American Civil Liberties Union twice sued the agency and Corrections Corporation of America. “The problems are not by any stretch of the imagination limited to private companies,” said Michele Deitch, a prisons expert with the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. “But I think you are going to see more problems there, and less oversight of these facilities.” The number of people held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has jumped 36 percent since 2005, when the agency held a daily average of 19,718 detainees, who include illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and legal U.S. residents facing deportation. By the end of 2007, that number had grown to 30,881.