The Arizona town of Eloy used to live off cotton until it sucked up so much groundwater the desert floor began to crack and collapse. The town withered and almost died. Then, it found a new source of revenue: people, color-coded in blue, green and khaki uniforms, reports The Guardian. The largest U.S. private prison operator built a complex with four prisons in Eloy and imported prisoners from across the nation. CoreCivic, previously the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), is now Eloy’s biggest employer and taxpayer, contributing about $2 million to its $12 million budget. In addition to generating property and sales tax revenues, the approximately 6,500 prisoners boost state disbursements by swelling Eloy’s official population to more than 17,000. “It’s a positive thing for a small rural community, a great help to us,” said city manager Harvey Krauss.
Under President Trump, that bounty is set to grow. He wants to funnel more immigrant detainees to private prisons. One of the four prisons inside CoreCivic’s complex has been dubbed the deadliest U.S. immigrant detention center. There have been 15 deaths, including at least five suicides, since 2003, according to an Arizona Republic tally. A joint study by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (Civic) cited “systematic failure,” and found that detainees who are incarcerated pending deportation proceedings were needlessly suffering and dying at Eloy and other facilities because of improper medical care and misuse of solitary confinement. The Department of Homeland Security sent a report to Congress in 2015 complaining that the 1,520-bed facility ignored its recommendations, including for better suicide prevention. “They just give you water,” said Miguel Cornejo, 40, who spent nine months there in 2015. “If you’ve a headache, drink water. Stomach ache, drink water. Cancer, drink water. Water is their cure for everything.”