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The Immigration Industrial Complex

October 17, 2008

Undocumented immigrants are typically blamed for “stealing our jobs” and “taking our benefits.” That is to say, they’re typically accused of making us lose money. Now, all the research shows us that this is not actually the case, that our economy in fact depends on the labor immigrants provide. But after a string of articles that have come out lately, I can’t help but wonder how much money are we MAKING off of the crack down on “illegals”?

A couple of weeks ago the Washington Post wrote about the $21 million detention facility being built in Farmville, VA by private investors to “capitaliz[e] on the massive influx of detainees into the Immigration and Customs Enforcement system over the past year.” The investors claim that the facility will save the government money because it is not built on taxpayers dollars. Moreover, the Washington Post reports that the “town expects to receive about $322,000 a year in revenue by collecting $1 per detainee per day. An additional $425,000 would stream into Farmville and neighboring Prince Edward County by way of taxes and fees, buttressing Farmville’s annual budget of about $24 million.”

The Farmville facility was not requested by ICE. It’s not even sure it will be used. The investors merely saw the crackdown on immigration and the ensuing increase in detention as an opportunity to make a PROFIT. I guess that makes sense when Washington pays $95 a day to detain immigrants (at which, on any given day, there are an average of 30,000 immigrants in detention) rather than $12 a day for alternatives to detention.

Take another example from today’s Wall Street Journal. As the markets crash and most airlines begin cutting cost in every possible way (charging for the first checked bag, for your bag of peanuts, etc), there is one sector of the airline industry that is growing: the flights run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement deporting undocumented immigrants—or ICE Air as it is known by its employees.

ICE Air is a thriving business. The government pays $620 per person per flight for a one way ticket back to the immigrant’s home country. And as the chief of flight operations for deportations and removals at ICE says, “We are making a valiant attempt to overbook” so that ICE can get more bang for its buck. Logically that means that they try to fill every seat, waiting until they have, as WSJ put it, “a critical mass of deportees.”

And as they wait for this critical mass, they keep them detained which means, in turn, more profit for the detention center.

Do I even need to get into $67 million contract granted to Boeing (which could turn into a $2.5 billion project) to build the Berlin, I mean, US wall?

There is a growing (profitable) industry being built around the arrest, detention, and deportation of undocumented immigrants. Like the racial injustice rampant in the criminal justice system in the United States–the prison industrial complex as Angela Davis so rightly labeled it–how do we expect to reach equality and justice in the treatment of all peoples, including immigrants, when companies and profits are making millions off of their abuse and denial of rights?

It seems our country has yet another complex.

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