Weekly Chart: The Cost of U.S. Immigrant Detention Centers

By Nicki Fleischner

Immigrant detention is big business. As the White House considers shutting down for-profit detention facilities, we take a look at the stats.

In late August, the Homeland Security Advisory Council initiated an evaluation of whether the United States should end the use of private immigration detention centers. This has been a booming industry since 9/11 and, today, some two-thirds of immigrant detainees are housed in for-profit facilities, the majority of which are operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

Before the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, CCA never spent more than $500,000 annually lobbying the federal government. By 2013 that figure was up to $1.8 million as CCA took in more than $208 million in revenues from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts. Earlier this month The Washington Post revealed the details of the Obama administration's $1 billion contract with CCA to construct two detention facilities in Texas in light of the surge of migrants from Central America in 2014.

The decision to review private facilities seemed to mark a victory for advocacy groups that have criticized the immigrant detention conditions for years. A 2015 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report found for-profit detention facilities failed to adhere to standards in the arenas of health care, protecting of LGBT detainees from abuse, offering adequate and nutritious food, and providing detainees with access to legal services. However, others argue that eliminating private facilities is logistically infeasible and would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Individuals from Latin America and the Caribbean make up the majority of those detained in the United States every year. Since 2001, ICE has detained over 200,000 individuals annually, with people of Mexican nationality consistently making up upward of 60 percent of detainees. In fact, a 2015 BuzzFeed News analysis found that Mexicans facing deportation on noncriminal grounds have far higher rates of incarceration in detention centers than any other nationality.

An official recommendation on for-profit detention centers is expected by November. In the meantime, we look at the facts and figures behind U.S. immigrant detention centers.


Editor's note: Originally, a Twitter shareline for this article incorrectly cited $500,000 for ICE's 2005 budget. The actual budget that year, as indicated in the chart, was $700 million.