Private Prison Reveals the Truth About Pres. Obama's Immigration Policy

In the summer of 2014, the Obama administration was facing an immigration crisis unprecedented in recent history. Though the refugee crisis at the southern border has mostly fallen out of the headlines, its impact is still reverberating two years later thanks to a concession made by the Obama administration to the private prison industry in the heat of the turmoil, the Washington Post reports.

About 68,000 unaccompanied children and thousands more families fleeing gang violence in Central America crossed into the border that year, mostly into Texas, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Anti-immigration protests broke out in the communities where Central American immigrants were allowed to stay while they awaited processing. In July of 2014, more than 200 protesters in Murrieta, California blocked buses carrying detainees from reaching a U.S. Border patrol station, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Republican politicians pounced, claiming that Obama's lax immigration polices were to blame for the surge in child migrants.

"We are essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origins quickly. Indeed, once they arrive in the United States, we try to find sponsors for them in this country, and they effectively stay here permanently," Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In reality, the fact that the children were not immediately deported arose from a George W. Bush-era policy that sought to stem child-trafficking by blocking officials from immediately repatriating Central Immigrants.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration was forced to respond. But, as a Washington Post investigation recently uncovered, the administration's solution came at a heavy cost to American taxpayers, while doing little to stem the flow of Central American families.

A Prison Built for Deterrence

The Obama administration responded by paying a private prison company huge amounts of money to deter immigrant women and children from coming to this country, but the plan has been a multi-level failure. Immigrants are still crossing the border, and the federal government still has to pay, according to the Post's investigation.

Two years ago, the same year President Barack Obama passed executive orders to protect certain undocumented immigrants in the U.S., he quietly launched the plan to open the detention center for mostly women and children in Dilley, Texas. The aim was to hold immigrants for months in order to dissuade future immigrants from crossing the U.S. border, according to the Post.

Skipping the usual bidding process, the Obama administration signed a four-year $1 billion contract with the Corrections Corporation of America to hold these families and children in the South Texas Family Residential Center while they awaited an asylum hearing.

How it Backfired

However, in 2015 a federal court said that holding people just to deter others from immigrating is illegal.

An Immigration detention center in Texas.

"The court held that it was illegal to detain families based on deterrence. It made clear that the government cannot deprive individuals of their liberty merely to send a message to others," said Judy Rabinovitz from the ACLU in a statement on the organization's website. "This ruling means that the government cannot continue to lock up families without an individualized determination that they pose a danger or flight risk that requires their detention."

Because of the court's decision, families are now held in the Texas detention center for weeks instead of months and the facility is often only half full, according to the Post. Also the influx of families and children hasn't stopped. "I do not believe that family detention has been a deterrent,” former acting Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Director John Sandweg told the Post.

However, the failed deterrent will still cost tax payers millions of dollars for another two years. The $1 billion contract was not contingent on the number of detainees actually occupying beds in the facility. It's a flat fee.

“For the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren ( D- Calif.) to the Post. “It’s costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals.”

Back in January the Obama administration announced another program to deter border crossings that allows Central Americans to apply for amnesty without entering the U.S. Central Americans can now apply for amnesty through a U.N. high commissioner in Central American countries. However Michelle Brane, director of Migrant Rights and Justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, told ThinkProgress that this wont stop people from fleeing their violent countries to apply for amnesty in the U.S.

“What’s really very clear under international and domestic law is that there will always be people who need to flee immediately for various reasons,” Brane told ThinkProgress. “Those people continue to have the right to seek asylum at our borders. You’re not going to stop people from jumping out of a burning house by locking the door."

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