As immigration reform picks up steam in Congress, conventional wisdom holds that a handful of key players are shaping the legislation, says Columbia Journalism Review. Little scrutiny has been directed at a multi-billion dollar industry with a lot riding on the future of immigration policy: the private companies that operate federal prisons and detention facilities. For-profit prison management has become a booming business. Much of that growth is driven by the government's ramped-up immigration enforcement, which have boosted demand for privately-run prison facilities to detain suspected illegal immigrants until deportation hearings, and to incarcerate immigrants who have been convicted of crimes.
The nation's two largest private prison operators, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, have more than doubled their revenues from the immigrant detention business since 2005, contributing to overall combined revenues that topped $3 billion in 2011. Prison companies have spent heavily during this time to influence government: over the last decade, says the Associated Press, spending more than $45 million on campaign contributions and lobbying at the state and federal level. Some of the politicians who have benefited most from this largesse are influential Senators who are now playing key roles in shaping proposed immigration reform legislation.