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Private Prison Companies Make Big Money Off Detaining Undocumented Immigrants

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In a photo made Friday, Jan. 27, 2012 photo, Pedro Guzman is shown at home in Durham, N.C. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained the Guatemalan native in 2009, and he spent 19 months in private prisons run by CCA in Gainesville and Lumpkin, Georgia. Guzman was released and granted legal permanent residency in May, when ICE's Board of Immigration Appeals overturned his deportation order. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) | AP

MIAMI (AP) — In a story Aug. 2, The Associated Press reported that three private prison companies in the U.S. have spent at least $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists in the last decade, and that the number of illegal immigrants detained rose sharply during that period. The story said the prison companies' PACs and employees gave to congressional leaders who control how much taxpayer money goes to run the nation's detention centers and who influence private sector contracts.

The story quoted spokesmen for Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group Inc. as denying their lobbying and donations were aimed at influencing immigration policy, and one of them as saying that the goal was to acquaint new lawmakers with the industry, but the story did not fully describe the issues. The companies say they expressly prohibit their lobbyists from working to pass or oppose immigration legislation.

The AP also reported that at the state level, the companies' lobbying money "generally went to states along the border, such as Florida and Texas, which have high numbers of immigrants, as well as states such as Georgia and Louisiana, where large numbers of immigrants also are detained." The story should have noted that those states also have a significant number of private prisons that are not intended solely for illegal immigrants.

The story also said that private facilities housing illegal immigrants have little federal oversight but did not elaborate. The AP found that while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has a monitor at 52 public and private facilities housing about 84 percent of all detained immigrants, those individual monitors can be responsible for up to 1,800 immigrants apiece, and there are still about 200 smaller facilities that have no monitor. Also, the agency's internal inspectors have criticized ICE for giving private prison operators advance warning of federal inspections.

The companies say they must meet stringent federal reporting requirements and say they go even further.

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