Trump’s other wall: Private immigration jails planned near sanctuary cities

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While much attention has been paid to the debate over President Trump’s proposed border wall, it’s not the only anti-immigrant wall his administration wants to build.

In October, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took steps to identify sites for new or expanded privately run immigrant detention centers in St. Paul, Chicago, Detroit, Salt Lake City, and Texas. The process took place with little fanfare and no public announcement from the Trump administration. But this expensive and dangerous expansion of privatized detention poses a grave threat to immigrants and communities across the country.

{mosads}The proposed detention sites are consistent with the administration’s efforts to round up and deport more immigrants in the U.S. interior. The White House has requested an additional $1.2 billion in the 2018 budget for immigration enforcement, in part to fund an increase in detention capacity to 51,000 people a day. The House and Senate appropriations bills would also increase detention capacity, albeit at slightly lower numbers.

But why this massive expansion of detention?

Despite the “law and order” rhetoric coming from the administration, these increases look more like a political statement that conveniently funnels profits to private companies that donated generously to President Trump’s election.

The truth is there is no “public safety” rationale for these facilities. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been struggling to manufacture an illusion of danger in order to justify cruel and arbitrary immigration policies. In the leadup to a series of ICE raids in February, DHS went so far as to send directives to ICE field offices demanding they generate lists of “egregious” cases of crimes allegedly committed by immigrants, and continued to prod ICE officers when they failed to deliver. And the administration has doggedly refused to acknowledge the ample body of evidence that demonstrates immigrants are a positive force in building safer communities.   

Instead, these detention centers may be a costly way to further attack sanctuary cities. Four of the five proposed sites are near cities that have taken steps to protect residents by enacting policies that limit collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement. They are also far from the border – further indicating the Trump administration’s commitment to ramping up interior enforcement. There has already been a 40 percent increase in interior arrests in fiscal year 2017, which means ICE agents are picking up more and more people in parts of the country far from any border, and detaining and deporting them in record numbers.

The only beneficiaries of expanding privatized immigrant detention are the companies who get the contracts. Private prison companies like GeoGroup and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) saw their stocks increase with Trump’s election and subsequent actions. These companies have a vested interest in increasing incarceration rates, regardless of the economic costs or the moral implications of making a profit from putting people in cages. 

Years of research shows that private prisons are expensive, unsafe, and frequent sites of human rights violations. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has long worked to document abuses in private prisons and detention centers. A groundbreaking 2012 report released by AFSC’s Arizona office documented both the hidden costs and the numerous abuses found in the state’s privately-run prisons. Since then, a growing body of evidence has shown the dangers of privatization, including a report by the Justice Departments’ Office of the Inspector General documenting that privately run facilities contracted by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) were even more dangerous than their public counterparts. And the last year alone has seen a dramatic increase in deaths of immigrants held in private facilities contracted by DHS. Despite this dismal track record, the Senate’s proposed budget cuts 27 percent from the Office of the Inspector General – the department charged with providing oversight and accountability.

This means the Trump administration is planning to detain more people by building more private detention centers with less oversight. Expanding the number of people DHS is funded to detain on a given day – and the number of facilities in which to detain them – means more individuals, families, community members, asylum seekers, and young people will needlessly be stuck behind bars. 

Both the Senate and the House are considering appropriations bills that would allow for massive expansion of funding for detention and deportation. The proposal from Senate Republicans includes funding for ICE to detain over 39,000 immigrants every day; the House proposal includes funding to detain 44,000 people daily. These proposals are investments in the infrastructure of human misery – for the caging of human beings to make a political point and drive up profits for private corporations.

But Congress has the power to reject these bills, and any bills that include additional funding for immigration detention and enforcement. They can listen to the millions of people calling on them to invest instead in human needs, in the institutions and infrastructure that genuinely help communities thrive. Rather than dotting the landscape of the U.S. with monuments to despair and fear, we can, and should, invest in the future we want to inhabit.

Kathryn Johnson is the Policy Impact Coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy. She coordinates the organization’s policy work on immigration, trade, and U.S. engagement with Latin America. Follow her at @KatJohnsonDC

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