Some Things Shouldn’t Be For Profit

In this piece, Mike Siegel (Democrat for US Congress in TX-10) takes on the private prison industry – which is profiting immensely off of immigrant family detention.

The billion-dollar industry of detaining immigrant kids.” This one headline poignantly captures the ills of our society.

The Trump administration’s family detention policy, which has already caused irreparable harm to thousands of infants and children, will live in infamy. Perhaps more than any other action, this is what the current Republican Party stands for: an openly racist and inhumane effort to discourage immigration from the south by using children as hostages.

But the family separation policy is not just a cynical show to motivate hateful Republican voters, it is also a profit-center. A growth industry. A wellspring of extravagant fortunes for well-connected entrepreneurs.

And a source of political contributions.

Private prison operators donate tens of millions of dollars to political candidates. My general election opponent, Rep. Michael McCaul, has received at least $15,000 from jailers profiting from immigrant detention, including Corrections Corporation of America (now “CoreCivic”) and the Geo Group. In his capacity as Chairman of Homeland Security, McCaul advocates to fill more beds in immigrant detention centers. There is a direct line between the money he receives and the policies he creates.

And these policies are setting the foundation for even more political influence.

There are over 250 immigration detention facilities across the country, nearly two-thirds of which are operated by for-profit private prison companies. Over 350,000 immigrants are detained every year, and annual revenue exceeds four billion dollars. CoreCivic alone spent nearly $10 million between 2008 and 2014 lobbying members of the House Appropriations Committee Homeland Security Subcommittee. In return for this largess, Congress enacted an immigration detention quota, which requires that 33,400 beds be available on a daily basis, regardless of whether they are needed or not.

We have, as some say, a prison industrial complex. More specifically, an immigration detention industrial complex. And just like Eisenhower warned us about the tentacles of military contractors invading the decision-making apparatus of United States foreign policy, the influence of companies like Geo Corp and CoreCivic threatens to take immigration policy out of the hands of the American people and into the hands of those who profit for suffering.

By conducting the program through private companies, the Administration avoids scrutiny of its policy decisions. Obtaining prison records from a private entity is more difficult, and workers who would otherwise be federal employees are not unionized, making it even hard for would-be whistleblowers.

And so we are left with a completely dysfunctional and destructive system. There are rampant reports of sexual abuse of detainees. Medical care is dangerously and persistently inadequate. Conditions are appalling. And that doesn’t even take into account the use of forced labor.

In lock-ups across the country, immigrants work full-time for $1 a day to prepare food, wash clothes, and clean floors. A Georgia facility was sued for withholding basic necessities like food, toothpaste, soap and toilet paper; their goal was to compel prisoners to work in order to pay for those items from the commissary. In other places, prisoners must complete “voluntary work” or face punishment.

In a functioning democratic system, our elected representatives would not allow for so much suffering to be conducted in our name.

Unfortunately, we operate in a landscape where the Supreme Court believes corporations are “persons” with “free speech” rights including the right to make unlimited political contributions. Until we undo Citizens United and some of the other decisions that put profits before people, prison operators and others will continue to bribe officials to steer policy in their favor.

But I continue to believe in the power of the people. And on basic human decency issues, we are the majority.

Two-thirds of the American people oppose family separation. In November we have a chance to hold some of the key perpetrators accountable, including Michael McCaul. I will make sure that every Texas 10th voter knows that McCaul supported separating mothers from their children from the first day the policy was announced.

As the Democratic nominee, I have promised to reject all corporate PAC donations, and I am committed to undoing the privatization of our immigration detention system and fighting for a larger overhaul of how we treat migrant families, asylum seekers, guest workers, students, and other visitors to this country. This summer, my campaign successfully petitioned the Texas Democratic Party to add opposition to private detention centers to its statewide platform. The next step is to change our representative.

Voters across the country are ready to throw out corrupt and self-dealing politicians. McCaul is one of the worst, using his chairmanship to advance a pernicious industry that in return fills his campaign coffers. Removing him from office will be a victory for human rights and common decency.

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