ICE spends $2 billion every year to detain immigrants in notoriously unsafe private facilities

Immigrant detention center.
(Image credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

As the controversy surrounding American border policy swells, we've seen chain-link cages and heard the cries of children torn from their parents and stationed in immigration detention centers.

But these facilities aren't necessarily run by the government. Private prisons were home to 62 percent of immigrant detention beds and ran nine of the 10 biggest facilities in 2015, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute found in a report published last month. And they've been reaping major profits for decades.

Despite transferring some detainees to federal prison earlier this month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement still relies on private detention and spends $2 billion on it annually, NPR reported last year. That's $126 per day per immigrant in 2017, per MPI.

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Proponents of private immigration insist competition drives costs down, MPI notes. But three major companies dominate 96 percent of private prison beds, and the largest, GEO Group, saw its profits triple from 2007 to 2014. GEO Group also spent $1.7 million on lobbying last year, made sizable donations to a pro-Trump super PAC, and has seen its stocks soar since President Trump's election.

The argument that private competition improves the quality of detention centers also seems moot. Human rights abuses are notoriously worse at private prisons, which is why the Justice Department tried to sever its ties with these companies in 2016, says MPI. But the Trump administration reversed, and major connections to private prisons persist to this day.

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