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Robert Mercer, a major backer of President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and an investor in the private prison industry which has profited off Trump's hard-line immigration policies. (Photo: Oliver Contreras for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

Targeting Vulnerable Refugees, Trump's Racist Fearmongering Make His Billionaire Backers Richer by the Day

"At a time that Donald Trump is sending 15,000 troops to confront a caravan of desperately poor people from Central America...the president's chief financial patron is cashing in on private immigration detention camp operators."

Julia Conley

As President Donald Trump threatens a small group of Central American asylum-seekers with gunfire and an illegal border blockade ahead of the midterm elections, right-wing candidates aren't the only people exploiting his racist fearmongering and obvious political "stunt."

A new report by Yahoo News shows that Trump's wealthy backers have grown richer each time his administration implements a new hard-line policy—while simultaneously ensuring that demand for such actions will continue to grow among Trump's supporters.

As investors in private prison operators including CoreCivic and GEO Group, the billionaire Mercer family—including hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah—have directly benefited from Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy as both corporations have detained undocumented immigrants in recent months. As Ken Silverstein wrote at Yahoo News, the companies' stocks have risen each time the administration has taken a step forward in its agenda:

With Trump's unexpected victory, CoreCivic stock rose meteorically. By Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2017, it had doubled, and it climbed higher when the new administration began implementing its hard-line immigration and law and order policies. On Feb. 24—a day after Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed the Obama ban on private prisons—CoreCivic's share price hit $35.03. That was a potential windfall for investors, including Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund then headed by billionaire Robert Mercer. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, between Trump’s election and inauguration, Renaissance unloaded 645,586 CoreCivic shares for a big profit.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the administration would begin following a new "zero-tolerance" policy last spring, locking up all immigrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without going through a designated point of entry and separating children from their parents and guardians, GEO Group's stock also skyrocketed. Its shares rose 35 percent in value in the chaotic two months that followed, before international outrage forced the administration to reluctantly end the family separation practice.

Renaissance Technologies, where Mercer stepped down as CEO last fall but in which he is still involved, purchased its GEO Group shares for $8.2 million, according to Silverstein. As of last month the shares were worth a total of $9.5 million, giving Mercer's company a $1.3 million profit.

While benefiting from Trump's policies, the Mercers have also ensured that the president's anti-immigrant agenda will continue to have support among his base. The Mercers have funded Breitbart News, where former Trump strategist Steve Bannon published fear-mongering white supremacist content, as well as the group Secure America Now, which produced anti-Muslim videos just before the 2016 election.

After Trump's victory, Silverstein wrote, "Rebekah Mercer won a spot on the executive committee of Trump's transition team—and reportedly pushed for hiring Sessions as attorney general," ensuring that the president would have a virulently anti-immigration official at the helm of the Justice Department. The Huffington Post has also reported that Mercer pushed Trump to hire Bannon.

As Yahoo News noted, the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 has made the Mercers' outsized influence on Trump completely legal. Robert Mercer donated $15.5 million to a pro-Trump PAC during the 2016 campaign, gaining further assurance that the president would work to establish policies that serve the billionaire's interests.

"Unfortunately, wealthy individuals pushing candidates who promote policies that advance their financial goals is not uncommon or illegal," Walter Shaub, senior adviser to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), told Yahoo. "It's sort of legalized corruption and a general problem of our campaign finance system."

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