Even as the number of immigrants caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has fallen to the lowest levels since the 1970s, the federal government has increased spending on immigrant detention, filling 14,000 more beds last year than it did in 2006, says the Los Angeles Times. Private prison companies such as Geo Group, which owns and manages the new facility, have profited from the boom. Geo runs five of the nation’s 10 largest immigrant detention centers, at a cost of roughly $100 per detainee per day. It is expanding a 1,300-bed facility in the high desert city of Adelanto, Ca., and doubling the size of a family detention center in Karnes, Texas.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say private companies often do a better and more efficient job of housing detainees than the agency itself or the local jails it sometimes contracts with. They say ample detention space is necessary to house deportable immigrants who have been convicted of crimes. Nearly 90 percent of the detainees at the new center have criminal backgrounds, said Erik Bonnar, assistant director for detention and removal operations in ICE’s San Francisco field office. A facility in Bakersfield, Ca., looks more like a suburban office park than a prison, with only a bit of razor wire visible from the road, and a trimmed lawn and blue portico out front. Immigrant advocates have complained about the detention center’s distance from the San Francisco immigration courts, where most of the immigrants here have their cases. They say there aren’t enough pro bono immigration lawyers in Bakersfield.