2013 Fox in the Henhouse Award -- How CCA turns Federal Immigration Policy into Gold

by Gerry Chapman

Over the last several years, the total number of federal inmates has increased dramatically, primarily due to higher incarceration rates of aliens. Estimates indicate that some 55,000 aliens account for more than one-fourth of the total prison population in federal facilities today. The approximate annual cost to the US government of housing those aliens is nearly $1.6 Billion. (What those figures do not disclose is that the vast majority of those aliens are detained due to minor traffic and other similar violations, and not for serious crimes.) Not coincidentally, Congressional mandate requires DHS to keep some 33,000 immigration violators in custody every day.

Private enterprise has responded through companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA's website states that its vision is to be the best full-service adult corrections system; and that its mission is to advance corrections through innovative result that benefit and protect all that CCA serves. Founded in 1983, CCA claims that its approach combines "the cost savings and innovation of business with the strict guidelines and consistent oversight of government," resulting in "proven results for more than three decades." CCA bills itself as "America's Leader in Partnership Corrections."

CCA also claims that it saves taxpayers between 5 and 15 percent in overall costs. It does this by building facilities in less than half the time that a public facility takes; by averaging $75 Million in construction costs per facility, compared to $150 Million in the public sector; and by using national purchasing power to get better rates for goods and services, and then passing the savings on to government and, by extension, to taxpayers.

CCA also claims that it takes very seriously "our responsibility to respect and uphold the rights and welfare of inmates and detainees in our care", and to provide to those in its custody with "protection from personal abuse and injury, verbal abuse, corporal punishment" and the like, through, e.g., a "robust sexual abuse prevention program."

Such claims resonate with state and federal lawmakers and agencies who make the decisions to farm out services such as corrections. Indeed, a 2010 estimate showed that during the prior decade CCA had spent some $4.4 Million lobbying DHS, ICE, Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, Office of Budget Management, Bureau of Prisons, and Congress. CCA also has been a long-time and leading member of ALEC, a so-called legislative exchange council, that counts some 2000 state legislators among its members. ALEC uses 10 taskforces to develop "model" legislation that its individual members then sponsor and introduce in their states.

And what return did CCA get for its lobbying efforts and its membership in ALCE? In Idaho, the state has been paying CCA $29 Million per year to operate just one prison near Boise. However, on Friday, January 3, 2013, Governor Butch Otter announced that Idaho will take over management of its largest privately run prison from CCA after a decade of mismanagement and other problems there. Despite CCA's lofty claims of providing innovative results that protect the public, and of delivering substantial cost savings while under the strict guidelines and oversight of government, AP reports state that this one CCA facility has been the subject of "multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud by CCA." AP also reports that, contrary to CCA's claims that it passes on savings to local governments and their constituents: "CCA acknowledged last year that falsified staffing reports were given to the state showing thousands of hours were staffed by CCA workers when the positions were actually vacant."

And in contrast to the claim that CCA "takes very seriously our responsibility to respect and uphold the rights and welfare of inmates and detainees in our care," AP reports that a "federal judge has held CCA in contempt of court for failing to abide by the terms of a settlement agreement reached with inmates in a lawsuit claiming high rates of violence and chronic understaffing at the prison."

CCA collects huge sums of money every year through its private prison system and a growing inmate population. CCA, the largest private prison operation in the US, has a huge stake in federal immigration policy; it plans to fill thousands of detention bed overflows through the construction and management of its ever larger private prison system. The CEO of the second largest such company (GEO Group, also a member of ALEC) confirms that, because of the high incidence of illegal border crossings, "there are going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do."

Although much of CCA's lobbying efforts are directed at state legislators, the focus of many of the bills introduced in the US House of Representatives in the last several years are enforcement-only bills, just as most of these state bills are. And the longer that Congress delays immigration reform, and the longer that DHS continues deporting people at a rate of some 4000,000 per year (the majority of whom are detained), the more the profits of the private prison industry will grow.

And as long as corporate powerhouses such as CCA have behind the scenes access to legislators, US immigration policy will continue to be controlled by the desire of the private prison industry for more and more profit. Unlike private hospitals and schools that have to rely to a large extent on repeat customers, for-profit prison companies such as CCA deal in a disposable product: the detainee. They care little about their "service and product"; they care about profit. As Idaho taxpayers now have seen, while CCA defrauded them by submitting fraudulent staffing reports, inmates suffered through years of violence and understaffing.

CCA never will have any interest in an immigration policy that supports the legitimate needs of US employers for unskilled labor; if it did, CCA would be supporting a decrease in the detainee population and a decrease in its bottom line. CCA and other groups who have resisted common sense immigration reform have distorted and perverted the legislative process and have soiled our national character. In the service of higher profits, our government has allowed decent, hard-working families to be displaced from communities where they have lived for years, and for parents to be torn from their children. This desire for profits has created a powerful, soul-less monster masquerading as legitimate immigration law. It has glorified an "us against them" mentality and imbedded that mind-set into national immigration policy.

It is time for Congress to place the US national interest above the narrow profit motives of a few private prison companies like CCA.

And it is time that all US taxpayers recognized what the private prison industry has done: it has played us all.

January 5, 2014

Gerry Chapman

Originally appeared on Musings on Immigration: An Immigration Attorneys Perspective on Life, Liberty, and Happiness. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Gerry Chapman has been a Board Certified Immigration Specialist since 1997. He graduated from UNC-CH in 1973 with a BA in International Studies, and in 1978 he received his JD, cum laude, from the University of Georgia School of Law. He is a past Trustee of the American Immigration Law Foundation (2004-2008). He served as Chair of the Carolinas Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), as a member of AILA's Board of Governors from 1998-2000, and as Chair or Co-Chair of three national AILA Committees: the Immigrant Investor Visa Committee (1990-93), the Committee on Intracompany Transferees and International Managers and Executives (1993-94), the Essential Worker Committee (1999-2004). More recently he served on AILA's Liaison Committee with the DHS Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), and on AILA's Essential Worker Committee (2007-08), and as a Mentor for AILA (2003-present), and on the 2008 Strategic Planning Committee to evaluate Missions, Goals and Programs for AILA. He currently is a member of AILA's H-2B committee and will serve as Moderator for AILA Silver Circle in 2012. Mr. Chapman has authored articles in several AILA publications, co-edited an AILA workbook, and has lectured at immigration seminars in the United States and abroad and has served as Immigration Commentator for Triad Business Journal in 2011. He has been heavily involved in AILA's efforts to secure immigration reform on a national level. He is included in the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 editions of The Best Lawyers in America, in the specialty of Immigration Law. He has also been chosen for inclusion in the Super Lawyers list for immigration specialists in North Carolina for the last six consecutive years. He is also included in the 2013 of The International Who's Who of Corporate Immigration Lawyers and the 2014 Who's Who of Business Lawyers. He is conversant in Spanish.

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