The man behind the wheel produces no driver’s license or registration. The deputy notices $1,000 in cash stuffed in the doorframe — payment, he presumes, for completed passage from Mexico. He radios the sheriff’s immigration enforcement team, summoning agents from the U.S. Border Patrol. Soon, the three men are ushered into the back of a white van with a federal seal.
This routine traffic stop represents the front end of an increasingly lucrative commercial enterprise: the business of incarcerating immigrant detainees, the fastest-growing segment of the American prison population. The three men loaded into the van offer fresh profit opportunities for the nation’s swiftly expanding private prison industry, which has in recent years captured the bulk of this commerce through federal contracts. By filling its cells with undocumented immigrants caught in the web of increased border security, the industry has seen its revenues swell at taxpayer expense.
The convergence of the people on the Interstate on this recent afternoon, as well as the profits that flow from imprisoning immigrants, are in part the result of concerted efforts by the private prison industry to tilt immigration detention policies in its favor, a Huffington Post investigation has shown.
In Washington, the industry’s lobbyists have influenced policy to secure growing numbers of federal inmates in its facilities, while encouraging Congress to increase funding for detention bedspace. Here in this southern Arizona community, private prison companies share the spoils of their business with the local government, effectively giving area law enforcement an incentive to apprehend as many undocumented immigrants as they can.