As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the public bidding process and offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum, the Washington Post reports. The four-year, $1 billion contract, details of which have not been previously disclosed, has been a boon for CCA, which is paid regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive but ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge. In hundreds of other detention contracts from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied.
In this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is, say, half full, as it has been in recent months. ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the contracts for the 2,400-bed facility in Dilley, Tx., and one for a 532-bed family detention center in Karnes City, Tx., given to another company are “unique” in their payment structures because they provide “a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents.” The rewards for CCA have been enormous: In 2015, the first full year in which the South Texas Family Residential Center was operating, CCA made 14 percent of its revenue from that one center while recording record profit. CCA declined to specify the costs of operating the center. “For the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Ca.), the top Democrat on the House’s Immigration and Border Security subcommittee. “It’s costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals.”