Alibi V.27 No.30 • July 26-Aug 1, 2018 

News Editorial

Master of Puppets

For-profit prisons pulling the strings behind immigration policy

Americans love to preach from their self-proclaimed pedestals. From there, cocooned in a cozy shroud of worldly and spiritual comforts, we have free reign to leisurely peruse world news and give unasked-for, half-assed advice on the “right” way to do things.

We assume that America, and us as part of it, set the par for excellence in all things—as if our country is the paragon of enlightenment and success. As if we are not plagued by, and purveyors of, all sorts of injustice. As if we know what is best.

Current events are beginning to disturb this chimerical vision of America that so many hold dear to their hearts; only the most insulated or undiscerning of us can afford to be untroubled by the once-unfathomable political and social landscape which has unfolded over the past year and a half.

Yet our eyes stay plastered to screens that reveal an inverted, everted and disconcerted country. Scared or unaware of our own potency, we content our anxious nerves with retweets and distract our uneasy minds with memes. We resign ourselves to a bewildered, perverse fascination with the bumbling man at the country’s helm.

But Trump in himself does not pose a real threat to the country; he is a diversion, a sideshow. As long as America remains preoccupied with Trump as a spectacle, his administration has free reign to covertly actualize the dystopic, distorted America we all pretend could never exist.

But that America can exist. It does exist—surreptitiously, in the shadows, taking advantage of those without the money and power to fight against it. And the hold of that America on our America, our founders’ America, grows stronger by the day.

The private prison industry was hardly flailing before Trump’s election, but it’s vital signs were beginning to fail.

One judge in Mississippi condemned a private youth facility as a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions.” Reports of rampant violence and abuse grew increasingly common.

In the face of the lowest imprisonment rates in 20 years, politicians (including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders) publicly called for an end to all privately-owned correctional facilities.

Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department announced in August 2016 their decision to phase out the use of private prisons and detention centers, denouncing them for failing to maintain expected levels of safety and security and failing to save substantially on costs.

Trump, for his part, signaled his support for privatization, stating that private prisons “seem to work a lot better.”

A day after the historic decision from the Justice Department, GEO Group—one of the two large private prison companies in the country, along with CoreCivic—donated $100,000 to the pro-Trump super-PAC Rebuilding America Now (bypassing a legal ban on “pay-to-play” contributions from federal contractors by using their subsidiary, GEO Corrections Holding Inc.).

Another $125,000 soon followed, as did a $250,000 contribution to Trump’s inaugural celebration. And, lo and behold, GEO Group was rewarded generously, receiving the new administration’s first federal contract: a 10-year, $110 million grant to build immigration detention centers in Texas.

That was only the tip of the iceberg. Making good on his campaign promises, Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy demanded the expansion of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention capacity, prioritized all illegal immigrants for enforcement, and pushed for partnerships that would encourage local and state governments to contract with for-profit detention companies.

The first nine months of Trump’s presidency saw a 42% increase in the number of immigrants detained by ICE, with a whopping 74% of detainees sent to privately-owned, for-profit facilities.

ICE expects to hold a record 51,379 immigrant detainees in their confines over the course of 2018. They also spend over $2 billion a year on private detention for immigrants—money that flows directly into the coffers of GEO Group and CoreCivic.

In 2017 alone, these two companies spent $2.6 million on federal lobbying to influence immigration policy and pursue federal contracts.

Their efforts are working—Trump’s administration continues to push for more and more federal detention facilities and increased numbers of beds for detainees. And the expenses needed to exert their influence have been absolutely dwarfed by the profits they have realized: together, the two companies accrued over $4 billion in revenue in 2017.

Those numbers will continue to grow, and grow, and grow under Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy—a policy that exists in almost full force despite the end of his heinous family-separation policy.

The repeal of that policy was perceived as a resounding success for the people and for the nation, inspired by a national outcry that was refreshing in its swiftness, strength and effectiveness. It was construed as a major loss for Trump.

If you look at Trump not as a blunderingly inept and evil leader, however, but as a master of diversion—you uncover some dangerous truths.

Trump knows power. Trump knows money. Maybe most importantly, Trump knows controversy—and how to use it.

Public response to his immigration policy been so dominated by the valiant notion of reuniting families that we have almost entirely ignored the fundamental structures and motivations underlying Trump’s immigration policy.

Trump doesn’t have any real investment in separating families. He doesn’t even have any real investment in stemming the flow of immigration to this country—in fact, he has shamelessly milked cheap labor from undocumented immigrants to build his own construction projects.

And while he clearly feels no moral responsibility to anyone, at all—he might not even understand the concept—he is not the very manifestation of evil, enacting these policies purely out of twisted, sadistic spite.

What he and his camp feel responsibility for, what they are motivated by, what they are truly invested in, is quite simple: money and power.

These are the two things which have given his life meaning; they are the two things that determine “success” for him personally and professionally. And they are two things that are deeply, inextricably intertwined.

Without money, Trump could never have attained this degree of power, nor the Presidential position. I don’t even necessarily mean his own exorbitant stacks of money, though that clearly played its own role.

No, I mean the money of his benefactors, the people who understood what they stood to gain from the election of an unscrupulous president. The people whose interests and status have been systematically elevated and codified since January 20, 2017.

There was one industry in particular that stood to gain or lose it all.

The same industry that subjects humans to humiliation, abuse and degradation in the name of cutting costs.

The same industry that threatens to subvert American ideals in the name of profit.

The same industry that pulls our President’s puppet strings in the name of power.