Nearly half of all ICE detainees land in private detention centers

Over the past five years, the number of immigrants held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers has skyrocketed. In 2005, the U.S. detained about 240,000 immigrants. By 2010, that number had spiked to nearly 400,000 detained immigrants.

Data recently released by the advocacy group Detention Watch Network shows just how deeply private prison companies have delved into that booming immigration detention system. By 2009, according to the group, 49 percent of all immigration detention beds in the country were run by private prison contractors, with Texas having more than any other state.

The two largest private prison corporations that contract with ICE are Corrections Corporations of America and the GEO Group, Inc., companies with reported annual revenues of $1.69 billion and $1.17 billion for 2010, respectively. CCA controls almost 15,000 immigration detention beds across the country, while GEO controls just over 7,000 - almost 2,000 of those beds are in Texas. GEO this year also broke ground on a new 600-bed immigration detention facility in Karnes County.

Emily Tucker, policy director with Detention Watch Network, remarked that  lawmakers should worry about the “extreme degree to which ICE relies on private contracts in the immigration context,” despite long-standing claims of abuse, lax oversight and shoddy medical care at many private-run immigration detention centers (see "Prisons for profit: Deaths, lawsuits don’t stop expansion of GEO immigration prisons").

The group also highlighted ongoing concern that heavy lobbying from the private prison industry is helping shape immigration detention policy. Tucker charged that private prison contractors see immigrant detention as a growth industry, and are ready and willing to lobby hard for policies that would ensure the industry continues to grow.

“I would say that if you look at the spike (in lobbying dollars) between 2003 and 2005, and compare that with the growth in detention beds, I think there are certain conclusions that can be drawn.”

CCA spent $18 million lobbying the federal government over the past decade, while GEO spent just over $2 million during that same period, according to federal lobby reports. In Texas, CCA has spent up to $1.5 million lobbying state lawmakers since 2003, while GEO spent up to $3.5 million lobbying Austin in that same period, Texas Ethics Commission filings show.