Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Emily Ryo, an associate professor at the University of California's Gould School of Law, said the working conditions at these facilities are effectively indistinguishable from "slave labor." (Photo: Customs and Border Protection)

Investigation Finds at Least $800M in Taxpayer Money Went to Funding For-Profit Immigrant Prisons in 2018

An aslyum-seeker who fled persecution in El Salvador described one private detention facility as "like a torture chamber"

Jake Johnson

While President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant agenda has been disastrous and deadly for asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, a Daily Beast investigation published on Thursday found that the White House's xenophobic policies have been a major boon for the private prison industry—at the expense of American taxpayers.

According to the Daily Beast's Adam Rawnsley and Spencer Ackerman, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget records show that for-profit immigrant detention centers run by corporate giants like CoreCivic and GEO Group raked in over $800 million in taxpayer money in 2018 alone, thanks to generous government contracts that are largely kept secret from the public.

"For 19 privately owned or operated detention centers for which the Daily Beast could find recent pricing data, ICE paid an estimated $807 million in fiscal year 2018," Rawnsley and Ackerman reported. "Those 19 prisons hold 18,000 people—meaning that for-profit prisons currently lock up about 41 percent of the 44,000 people detained by ICE. But that's not a comprehensive total, and the true figures are likely significantly higher."

As Ackerman pointed out on Twitter, the estimated $807 million cost to taxpayers is also "certainly an undercount, because ICE's accounting of how many for-profit prisons it contracts to is opaque."

On top of documenting the big profits private prison corporations are making from Trump's immigration dragnet, the Daily Beast also highlighted the brutal and "exploitative" conditions of the for-profit detention facilities, where detained aslyum-seekers work for as little as $1 a day.

Yesica, a 23-year-old woman who fled El Salvador after MS-13 persecuted her for being a lesbian, described the Texas facility where she is currently detained as "like a torture chamber."

"This is a really terrible place," Yesica, who works the kitchen graveyard shift for $3 a day, said of the Joe Corley Detention Center. "It's inhumane."

Emily Ryo, an associate professor at the University of California's Gould School of Law, told the Daily Beast that the working conditions at these facilities are effectively indistinguishable from "slave labor."

"To the extent that the industry is in the business of expanding the system so they can make more money off holding more immigrants that can be confined, and doing everything possible to profit off of it by labor processes like getting detainees to work and paying them a dollar a day, there is very little distinction you can draw between slave labor and what they're doing," Ryo said.

Laura Lunn, an attorney with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network in Colorado, agreed with this assessment, declaring, "The whole system is exploitative."

"It takes away the humanity of the people it detains and tells them, 'you can't be with your family, you can't go outside, you have very little agency, and while you're here, you've got to represent yourself in an immigration case without any tools, really, to succeed,'" Lunn concluded. "The labor piece of their detention is a small fragment of the ways their dignity is stripped from them. It's dehumanizing."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.

 

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo