Tue, Jun 26, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Illegal migration big business in border towns

‘RISING INDUSTRY’:From billion-dollar corporations that operate prisons nationwide to storefront lawyers and money lenders, businesses profit from the plight of migrants

AFP, EL PASO, Texas

Honduran girls look out at the Rio Grande on the Mexican side of the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge after their asylum-seeking families were denied entry by US Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

For volunteer activists working with immigrants, those who profit from the migrants’ plight are “sick.”

However, illegal migration is big business in the border state of Texas, generating jobs for private prison operators, money lenders and storefront lawyers.

Texas is at the center of the immigration crisis produced by US President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” practice, which has led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their families who attempted to enter the country illegally or while seeking asylum.

Although Trump on Wednesday ordered an end to the separations, deep confusion lingers over what this will mean on the ground.

In the meantime, the money keeps rolling in for those who benefit from the migrant influx.

More than two-thirds of the nearly 304,000 people who entered from Mexico and were detained by border patrol agents in fiscal year 2017 were in Texas, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Not surprisingly, then, Texas has the largest number of detention centers for immigrants.

The Houston detention center, built in 1983, was the first privately run prison in modern US history. Its owners, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corp of America), and the GEO Group are the two largest prison corporations in the country. Both are listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In all, CoreCivic operates four detention centers in Texas under contract to ICE. GEO operates three, with a fourth under construction. Each of the two corporations owns or operates more than 120 prisons nationwide.

“We are very appreciative of the continued confidence placed in our company by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” GEO president George Zoley said last year in a statement announcing a new federal contract worth US$110 million.

According to the investigative center In The Public Interest (ITPI), privatizing the penal system creates an economic incentive to promote mass incarceration even for minor crimes, such as illegal entry.

The two corporations together “have spent more than US$10 million on political candidates and have spent nearly US$25 million on lobbying efforts since 1989,” an ITPI report said.

Last year, GEO and CoreCivic had combined revenue of about US$4 billion, according to the companies’ annual reports.

“It’s an industry that drives the lobby for increased sentences, increases in mandatory minimum sentences, harsher punishment — because every day that they have somebody in a bed, you know, they’re making money,” said immigration lawyer Jodi Goodwin, who works for the nonprofit Migrant Center for Human Rights. “It’s a sick industry.”

According to ICE, the daily average population of immigrants in detention centers last fiscal year was 30,539. This year, the number has already hit 50,379.

The current crisis has cast a harsh light on some of the private operators of shelters where children are sent after being separated from their parents or guardians by border authorities.

There are 31 shelters for children in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune. Of them, the most controversial are those of the Southwest Key Programs.

Its children’s shelters are run under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“Casa Padre,” a former Walmart store in the town of Brownsville housing about 1,400 migrants, is the largest of Southwest Key’s facilities, some of which have been accused of violations by state inspectors.

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