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In these divided times, we love to highlight stories showing how much Americans have in common, across distance and party lines. 

So, here’s a story about how the for-profit prison industry has screwed over Americans on the right, left, and center through corruption, cronyism, and former KKK leaders.

How Lobbyists Keep Immigration Centers Full on Your Dime

To for-profit prison executives, immigrants are like… corn. A commodity that needs to stay stocked to keep prisons – and the executives’ wallets – full. So when immigrant detention starts to decline, industry lobbyists jump into action. 

Between 2008 and 2014, during which immigration was indeed declining, that action amounted to $13 million in lobbying from one of the largest private prison groups, Core Civic. 

In 2009, Senate Democrat and former “Exalted Cyclops” KKK member Robert Byrd invented just the thing to help out his industry lobbyist BFFs: a bed quota. With a bed quota, American taxpayers are forced to pay for 33,400 immigrant detention center beds at all times – regardless of whether the beds are used or needed. 

Enter Rep. John Culberson (TX), former Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director, and recipient of more than $89,000 from for-profit prison lobbyists throughout his career. Culberson embraced the lobbyists' demands and encouraged America to make use of all the beds, regardless of the ebb and flow of actual immigration. 

Let’s detain people just for fun! And while we’re at it, we’ll pay for their beds, their healthcare, housing, food, and anything else we can think of to put on the taxpayer’s bill. That’s right. By unnecessarily locking up immigrants, Congress has created a soup-to-nuts nanny state, funneling your tax dollars away from your healthcare, and giving it to immigrants. 

Justice Department Cracked Down on Private Prisons… Until They Got Paid

On August 18th, 2016, the Justice Department took a bold step by deciding to end its relationship with the private prison industry, and rely instead on publicly run facilities. The very next day, private prison industry leader GEO Group donated $100,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC, and kept the money coming through Trump’s inauguration. 

In all, GEO Group gave nearly half a billion dollars to Trump-related funds – and it paid off. A month into Trump’s presidency, the Justice Department changed its mind about private prison contracts, and soon after, GEO Group scooped up a $100 million contract to build a new detention facility in Texas. 

Which would be super illegal, if GEO Group hadn’t devised a clever plan: Instead of donating directly to politicians (illegal), they created an “unrelated subsidiary” called “GEO Corrections Holdings” and had that group make the donations. See? Legal as an eagle.

Helping Private Prisons Hurts Americans

Through campaign cash, lobbying money, and other super-legal donations, the private prison industry has placed profits over human lives and over American interests. 

They’re not keeping us safer – in fact, when we try to detain enough immigrants in order to meet an arbitrary bed quota, we suck up resources that could have been used to go after dangerous criminals. 

Plus, it’s not even solving the problem of illegal immigration. If these industry-backed strategies were working, we’d see illegal immigration declining, but a study in the Stanford Law Review found the opposite.

And while the private prison industry keeps taxpayer money flowing into their pockets to pay for empty beds, immigrant healthcare, food, and housing, many American citizens go without food, housing, or healthcare

End Corruption. Defend the Republic.

Even on seemingly divisive, partisan issues, corruption invades our government and takes resources and rights away from all Americans. Whether it’s taxes, immigration detention centers, or the opioid crisis, corruption impacts every issue and person you care about. 

So here’s how we end it.

We’re going around Congress to pass common-sense, bipartisan reforms at the state and local level to break this cycle and unrig our political system. Things like: closing the revolving door so that lobbyists can't use future job offers to bribe politicians, making it illegal for lawmakers to accept money from lobbyists, and other popular reforms. 

We’ve already won over 100 victories, but we’ve got a lot more to do and we need your help. Join the movement below, or get involved right now with our national online team, the Action Brigade, to respond to the most urgent needs of the movement around the country. 

April 21, 2020

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.