Thursday, November 05, 2015

Rural towns profiting from detaining immigrants in facilities with no time limits for incarceration

Some rural communities have grown to rely on private immigrant detention centers—that have no time limits on how long someone can be detained—to boost ailing economies, Sarah Tory reports for High Country News. "Undocumented immigrants end up in detention for various reasons. Some are caught by local law enforcement without proper papers, and others are caught at the border, seeking asylum (or turn themselves in). Even immigrants with legal status are susceptible if they are convicted of a crime, sentenced and then detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after having served their time."

There are more than 1,500 facilities in the U.S., and the number of detained immigrants has doubled since 2005 to around 400,000 per year, Tory writes. "Accompanying the surge was a proportional increase in the taxpayer money going to detentions, from about $700 million in 2005 to nearly $2 billion in 2014." Most of the facilities are contracted out to private companies or to counties and house low-priority undocumented immigrants who can be detained or deported even without a criminal record.

When the number of facilities soared, so did profits for contractors, who donate large sums of money to political campaigns and are heavily involved in local laws, Tory writes. "But rural towns and counties have also benefited. In most states, prisoners boost official population counts, making shrinking rural areas look like they’re growing. That increases state funding for things like the local police force, libraries and social services."

For example, the Eloy Detention Center on the Arizona-Mexico border receives two dollars per day for each inmate held at its facility, Tory writes. "As part of its agreement to operate in the county, the payments increase as more beds are filled. That money translates to $2 million out of the town’s $23 million budget." But the facility has come under fire for allegations of sexual and physical abuse, with 10 detainees dying in custody since 2003.

"The immigrant detention quota legislation was first passed in 2009, and efforts to repeal it have repeatedly failed, says Cristina Parker, the director of immigration programs for Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group," Tory writes. "She blamed a perception among many Americans that sees undocumented immigrants as the source of societal problems like crime and job-losses. Parker also notes prison companies’ massive lobbying efforts on immigration and immigrant detention issues that affect their bottom line," including lobbying for laws that increase demand for their services. (Read more)

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