Friday, March 20, 2015

Amada Frost: Detention of fleeing immigrants isn't worth the price


In this op/ed, Professor Amanda Frost thoughtfully questions whether the monetary and other significant costs of immigrant detention are worth the alleged benefits:

"No one should be making money off the incarceration of children. But this is business-as-usual right now in Texas, where the United States government has expanded our nation's detention centers to confine women and children who have fled Central America in the hope of obtaining asylum here. These facilities are operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, the world's largest for-profit prison corporation, which has been granted lucrative contracts to house these detainees.

Detention might be worth the price tag if it protected the public against dangerous individuals, or was necessary to ensure that asylum seekers would not go into hiding to skip their court dates. But neither reason can justify the incarceration of immigrant women and children in Texas. The vast majority of women who cross the border with their young children have no criminal record, and pose no national security risk. (Indeed, to the contrary, many are fleeing the criminal gangs that have terrorized their countries). Experience teaches that most of these asylum seekers will show up in court, and the government has never produced any evidence to suggest otherwise.


There is another incentive for expanding immigration detention: money. It should come as no surprise to learn that the private prison industry has lobbied heavily in favor of increasing the numbers of immigrants held in detention. For-profit prisons such as the Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group make money every time the U.S. decides to incarcerate another mother and her toddlers.

The Detention Watch Network reports that the average daily population of detained immigrants has grown from 5,000 in 1994, to 19,000 in 2001, and to more than 33,000 by 2010. Not surprisingly, spending on detention has also increased exponentially, from $864 million seven years ago to around $1.9 billion today. (Last year the U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement, including the costs of detention, which is more than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.)

Private prison corporations have reaped the rewards. For example, CCA's stock price has risen from about $1 per share in 2000 to $40 per share today.

This country must end its policy of needlessly detaining families seeking asylum. Whether the costs of immigration detention are measured in terms of the psychological damage to incarcerated children or the financial burden borne by U.S. taxpayers, they are too high."


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