SYNDICATED COLUMN: Meet the For-Profit Prison Industry Raking in Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from Trump’s Mass Deportation Boondoggle

The Washington Post recently published a revealing and heartbreaking story about forced separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents — not the Trump-ordered fiasco we’ve watched over recent weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, but in the Midwest as the result of brutal ICE raids that have ripped families apart under Presidents Obama and Bush before him. It’s beautifully written, worthy of a literature award if not a Pulitzer for journalism.

One line leapt out at me: “Who benefits from this?”

Nora, an 18-year-old girl who lost both her parents to ICE raids and is now raising her 12-year-old brother like something out of a dark 1970s ABC Afterschool Special or a Dave Eggers story, wondered why the U.S. government carries out such vicious policies and tactics, like using offers of free food to lure poor migrants into the clutches of heavily-armed immigration goons.

“Was it American taxpayers, who were paying to finance the raid and resulting deportations? Or American workers, most of whom were so disinterested in low-paying farm work that Ohio had announced a crisis work shortage of 15,000 agricultural jobs? Or Corso’s Nursery, a ­family-owned business now missing 40 percent of its employees?”

OK, so the canard about Americans being unwilling to fill low-paid agricultural jobs is transparent BS. The key phrase is low-paid. If all the illegal immigrants disappeared tomorrow the labor-market version of the law of supply and demand would force agribusiness employers to offer higher wages. Plenty of Americans would be happy to pick fruit for $25 an hour. Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.

Still, Nora’s question is a good one. Whether you believe in open borders, want Trump to build The Wall or fall somewhere in between like me (build the wall, legalize the people already here who haven’t committed serious felonies, deport the criminals), everyone who cares about immigration should know the why and wherefore of how the U.S. government carries out deportations.

Contrary to what some liberals seem to believe, there is nothing unreasonable about border control. Determining who gets to enter your country’s territory, and who gets turned away, is one of the principal defining characteristics of a modern nation-state. Just you try to sneak into Latvia or Liberia without permission and see what happens. You can probably make it into Libya, but that’s because it’s a failed state.

After you catch illegal immigrants the question is, how do you deal with them?

Some countries, like Iran, deport unauthorized persons immediately, no due process. That’s what Trump wants to do.

Others treat them like criminals. Illegal immigrants caught in Italy face a hefty cash fine and up to six months in prison.

The United States falls in between. Applicants for political asylum are theoretically entitled to a hearing before an immigration court. Economic migrants receive no due process. Both classes face lengthy detentions before removal.

Lengthy detention is the key to Nora’s question.

So who benefits?

The answer is: America’s vast, secretive, politically connected, poorly regulated $5 billion private-prison industry. “As of August 2016, nearly three-quarters of the average daily immigration detainee population was held in facilities operated by private prison companies—a sharp contrast from a decade ago, when the majority were held in ICE-contracted bedspace in local jails and state prisons,” writes Livia Luan of the Migration Policy Institute.

Crime rates have been falling for years. So prison populations have been declining too. Adding to the down trend has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress; Democrats and Republicans agree that we need criminal justice reform centered around shorter sentences.

Originally sold as an innovative market-based solution to alleviate overcrowding in government-run prisons and jails for criminals, the private prison sector had been facing hard times before Trump came along. Private institutions were sitting empty. Until two years ago, private prisons had been scheduled to be phased out entirely by the federal sentencing system.

Trump made private prisons great again.

According to the UK Independent ICE arrests during Trump’s first nine months in office increased 43% over a year earlier. “Many of those immigrants are funnelled into a multibillion dollar private prison system, where between 31,000 and 41,000 detainees are held each night. In many cases, those private prison corporations — led by the behemoths GeoGroup and CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America — have contracts with the federal government guaranteeing their beds will be filled, or that they will receive payment regardless of whether they have a full house on any given night.”

With profits guaranteed by pro-business government contracts, Wall Street is bullish on prisons for profit. “The Trump administration’s tough-on-immigration policies are unlikely to fade anytime soon, meaning investors should expect continued strict enforcement, more arrests by ICE and the need to accommodate a growing number of arrested individuals,” an analyst advised investors.

That’s likely to continue. In a classic example of the revolving door between government and private industry, the CEO of GEO is Daniel Ragsdale, who left his post as #2 at ICE in May 2017. Talk about swampy: ICE is extremely cozy with for-profit prisons.

When your customer base is as disenfranchised, unpopular and defenseless as convicts and undocumented workers, it’s tempting to cut corners on costs for their care. Reports of abuse and neglect are even more widespread in the private prison sector than in traditional government-run lockups. “The conditions inside were very bad. The facilities were old. The guards were poorly trained. If you got sick all they would just give you Tylenol and tell you to get back to your cell,” said Adrian Hernandez Garay, who served 35 months for illegal immigration at the Big Spring Correctional Institution, a Texas facility run by the private corporation GEO. He told Vice he was fed rice and beans seven days a week. He described Big Spring as “far worse” than other prisons where he was held.

Even if you think illegal immigrants are criminals who should be tossed out on their ears, you ought to be highly suspicious of the private prison industry. After all, they don’t want illegals deported. They want them housed indefinitely in their sketchy facilities. And you’re paying the bill.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


29 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Meet the For-Profit Prison Industry Raking in Billions of Taxpayer Dollars from Trump’s Mass Deportation Boondoggle

  1. See Zusha Elinson’s “Trump’s Immigrant Detention Plans Benefits Private Prison Operators” in today’s Wall Street Journal.

      • @AT

        For the sake of discussion, do you consider media exclusion as a positive or a negative development?

        From your previous posts I can’t guess your take on this.

        My position is that media should have access, that the withholding of such information would be tantamount to support of “fake news”.

        Please excuse this question if you inadvertently take exception to it.

      • I take exception to nothing. I am happy to answer this.

        And I’m afraid that I must answer it with a question. Whose media?

        MSNBC, who will liken any sort of detention to Auschwitz? Or Fox News, who will say that the above picture is adequate shelter?

        And that is the point. I need to know more. From where is this picture? I don’t like so many men in one room; although it seems clean and rather like a large gymnasium, the setup seems to invite a brawl as well as the spread of disease.

        But I digress. Journalists no longer even feign objectivity. They all take sides. And if you are not on my side, that can only mean that you are looking for trouble, wilted vegetables, dust, a grumpy guard.

        Look, I do not care about these people and I can assure you that they do not care about you. They just want to get into this country.

        In Bowling Green, Ohio, two underage girls were kidnapped and raped by four illegal aliens from Mexico and Guatamela. One has been caught. Three are on the loose. (Source: Cleveland 19 News.) The Central American migrants don’t give a damn about what their compatriots did. The sad thing, Glenn, is that you don’t either.

      • @AT

        “The Central American migrants don’t give a damn about what their compatriots did. The sad thing, Glenn, is that you don’t either.”

        Were you informed about my opinion on this crime by MSNBC Or Fox News?

        Or are you propagating “fake news” about me?

      • It is called an informed opinion about someone who supports a policy of allowing unskilled, semi-literate, scamming, criminal elements into the country. (See my previous comments for the sources. I have referenced everything.)

        What is obscene is that there are no demonstrations against a government that does not protect its own citizens, particularly its little girls.

      • @AT

        I’ll take that as a yes, followed by a double down on your first “fake news”.

        You are a waste of space and breath.

      • There you go, screaming again.

        Dont engage if you can’t handle it.

    • @AT

      “There you go, screaming again.”

      So, so sensitive AT for one who swings such a shit covered cock.

      I can handle your kind’s shit. But why would anyone want to?
      You overestimate your impact on me.

      You are becoming your own worst enemy.

      I’m awaiting your hate and bulkiness to give you a stroke.

      Have you measured your blood pressure lately?

      My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout.

  2. The man imprisoned in one corner of the country and the man dining well in another are inevitably linked.

    George Orwell: “In order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation-an evil state of affairs, but one in which you acquiesce every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream.”

  3. So who benefits?

    Good question, Ted, which should, as you have here, be pursued more actively when attempting to understand current – and not so current – events. As the Romans used to ask, Cui bono ? or, in more modern parlance (which they would have no trouble understanding), «follow the money». And always keep an eye open for who’s short selling what on Wall Street (or some other exchange)….


    • My portfolio, as I have indicated, probably has private prison stocks. Both GEO and CXW are doing well this year. Shares are up!

  4. Sunday’s New York Times “What it Costs to be Smuggled Across the U.S. Border” recounts the smuggling of a unskilled Salvadoran migrant, a smuggling paid for by an uncle in the U.S.; now this migrant wants to pay the same smugglers to bring other family members here.

    The people who are here already here cannot be allowed to stay. Paying smugglers that bring others family members in just fuels the violence in their own countries that leads to more migration. Imagine if that money was used for reform or if these migrants started a revolution in their own country rather than coming here.

    Furthermore, this unskilled Salvadoran is the reason Corso’s will never have to pay a living wage. Illegal immigration is theft.

  5. I’ve been reading up on private prisons. There is some serious money to be made, especially as Trump wants more detention centers for immigrants.

    As in teaching, there are some real advantages to these private prisons. No one checks up on you. Snoops can’t file freedom of information requests because you are private. Just as no one really know what goes on in my classroom, no one really knows what goes on in these prisons.

    We do know that the more prisoners you have, the more money you make just as the more students a district has, the more funding the state must provide.

    As I’m somewhat experienced in running a prison myself, albeit on a small scale, I’d love to get in on this and bid for a contract.

  6. > Sorry, Corso’s — if you can’t afford to pay a living wage, you deserve to go out of business.

    Well, sorta. They can’t afford to pay a living wage because Americans aren’t willing to pay $20 for a head of lettuce.

    The law of supply and demand cannot be denied. If we throw out the migrant farm workers (who we’ve been inviting in for over a hundred years) then either someone takes up the slack or we starve. We will probably object to starving even more than we object to migrant farm workers.

    HEY! Here’s an idea! Somebody should start a conservapedia farm. Pay American workers minimum wage and mark up the goods the same as those marketed by traditional means. Libs pay $1.50 for a head of lettuce, RWNJ’s pay $20. Let’s see ’em put their money where their mouths are.

      • I wish I was a better vegetable gardener! The lettuce I tried growing got eaten by some creature in the middle of the night. I will try again in the fall. At least my fig tree has awesome fresh figs.

      • Were I not so concerned with anonymity, I would trade some red leaf lettuce for fresh figs!

        Good luck!

    • Recently i met a plant pathologist and she has clients in the Salinas Valley of CA. They are one of the major berry farmers and she said that they are already almost done with moving most of their farms to Mexico. They have given up on Congress solving the immigrant farm laborer situation with some sort of comprehensive reform. Do we want more of our produce grown outside the country? This is not ecologically sustainable, and what about E. Coli outbreaks that originate outside the country?

      • You are right, No, we want our produce grown here.

        To that end, look at the vast waste of space on suburban lawns and consider the amount of water and pesticides required to maintain that carpet of emerald green. California now rewards property owners who grow drought-resistant plants. What if we also rewarded people who grew their own food?

        I cannot recall the author’s name, but he wrote a bestselling book called “Home” several years ago that talks about the outdoors as another room in a house, one that Americans are not properly maintaining.

      • > what about E. Coli outbreaks that originate outside the country?

        Offhand, I’d say there was no difference between foreign and domestic E. Coli. Would you care for some Romaine lettuce or pre-cut melons?

      • Offhand, the origin of the domestic E coli is foreign.


        It’s frustrating keeping others out of the garden.

        I’ve used chicken wire and marigolds with varying success.

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