In 2018, For-Profit Private Detention Centers Received $800M In Taxpayer Money

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At these detention centers, slave labor is rampant and migrants are paid pennies on the dollar for their work.

The Daily Beast has reported that not only do for-profit detention centers give migrants slave-wages, but they received $800 million in taxpayer money in 2018. Migrants are paid only a few dollars for a days work.

At the Joe Corley Detention Facility in Texas, the guards wake up the migrant women in the facility at 1 a.m. The women begin working an hour later, and work until sunrise the next day at 8 a.m. Yesica cooks breakfast, serves the food, cleans up, and receives $3 a day for her work.

In fact, Yesica is lucky to receive even $3 a day. Her counterparts who sweep prison corridors are paid $1 a day. Officially, the work is not mandatory, but Yesica says that “since there’s absolutely nothing to do” inside, the detainees continue to work in order to keep their own stress at bay.

Yesica is a 23-year-old woman who fled El Salvador when she was persecuted by MS-13 for being a lesbian. MS-13 is a gang that the Trump administration uses in order to demonize immigrants. MS-13 murdered Yesica’s father, so she came to the U.S. to seek the safety of her family here. She has been locked inside of ICE’s detention centers for two years.

“This is a really terrible place,” Yesica told The Daily Beast through a translator from the Corley center. “It’s inhumane. It’s like a torture chamber.”

In 2018, for-profit immigration detention was a nearly $1 billion industry.

Although immigration detention is not a criminal process, it is being treated like one. In October, ICE was detaining an average of 44,631 people every day. Now the average is even higher: 44,892 people a day as of December 8.

The owner of Yesica’s detention facility, GEO Group, is expecting its earnings to grow $2.3 billion this year.

While imprisoning migrants has grown into a big business, the public still has little to no idea about what is truly happening inside the prison walls. Mary Small of the Detention Watch Network says the public still lacks “incredibly basic information about immigrant detention and how private prison companies are profiting from it.”

“Even though billions of taxpayer dollars are being obligated to private prison companies, the contracts between them and the federal government aren't publicly available, so we don't know how much these companies are being paid, how many people they're holding or how long their contracts last,” Small said. “This culture of secrecy—bolstered by revolving door politics and political contributions—have paved the way for a rapid and reckless expansion of the detention system.”

For-profit detention centers are growing in power, migrants are being treated like slaves, and the public knows nothing about it.

“There is very little distinction you can draw between slave labor and what they’re doing,” said Emily Ryo, an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.