Trump Plans Massive Federal Jails Increase to Accommodate Thousands of Immigrants
The Trump Administration is planning a massive expansion of federal jails and detention spaces for the thousands of undocumented immigrants they have been arresting and detaining, but cannot budget for the Cost-sharing Reduction payments for low-income Americans to afford health insurance.
In the past few days, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced that it is planning to house 4,000 more detainees in privately run federal jail sites in Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, Salt Lake City, and southern Texas.
The federal jails detention expansion is the latest measure in President Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. Currently, ICE detaining centers house 31,000 – 41,000 detainees each day in federal prisons, privately operated facilities, and local jails.
According to the latest ICE figures, the agency arrested 97,482 suspected illegal immigrants between Jan. 22 and Sept. 9 this year. That is a massive increase of 43% over the same period in 2016 under President Barack Obama. During the same span, ICE arrested 28,011 undocumented immigrants without a criminal record, an increase equal to 179% from the same period in 2016. The Obama administration arrested those who committed severe offenses only.
“The administration is doing everything it can on all fronts to detain and deport as many people as possible, and to criminalize as many people as possible,” said Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, which advocates against incarceration for immigration violators. It is “a very nativist and xenophobic position.”
“The Obama administration focused heavily on apprehending people on the border, but the Trump administration is targeting people in U.S. communities very far from the border.”
Trump’s immigration enforcement supporters such as Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, say the new federal jails are necessary for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in United States. Vaughan noted that four of the identified cities for new jails — Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City — are considered “sanctuary cities.”
That term “sanctuary cities” refers to more than 300 local governments that decline to cooperate with federal immigration agents, and fight back against Trump administration’s efforts to withhold federal funding from those cities. Trump Administration claimed that some cities refuse to detain undocumented immigrants in their local jails for federal immigration agents.
“ICE cannot rely on local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with them in holding deportable criminal aliens, so they have to acquire their space that they control,” Vaughan said. “This is very encouraging.”
ICE said this week it still in the process of inviting private companies to provide information on whether to renovate existing facilities or build new federal jails. The “Requests for Information” notices represent the start of the federal contracting process, and do not yet ask for cost estimates. However, a jail contract announced in April provides some context.
GEO Group, one of the leading private prison contractors in the country, received a $110 million contract from the federal government to build a 1,000-bed immigration detention center outside of Houston. Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said, “That kind of price tag means that ICE will most likely need new funding from Congress to build any more prisons.” Takei said, “To me, this is a signal that ICE wants to be ready, pen in hand, to sign new detention contracts as soon as Congress appropriates more money for detention.”
The administration’s push is not to expand the detention space in the Midwest to host undocumented immigrants crossing the southwest border with Mexico only. Last month, ICE conducted a nationwide sweep dubbed “Operation Safe City” and arrested more than 450 people living in Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts.
“The Obama administration focused heavily on apprehending people on the border, but the Trump administration is targeting people in U.S. communities very far from the border,” Takei said. “And because they are targeting cities far from the border, they are looking for detention space in areas where historically they have not had as much detention space.”
The two private prison groups that dominated the market and donated heavily to Trump, GEO and CoreCivic are the most likely candidates to score the new contracts. It is worth mention that 65% of detainees held by the Department of Homeland Security are in privately run prison facilities.
Florida-based GEO Group donated at least $475,000 to Trump’s inauguration festivities and a Super PAC that supported Trump’s presidential campaign. Tennessee-based CoreCivic, the other primary private prison contractor in the U.S., gave $250,000 to support Trump’s inauguration. Since Election Day, GEO Group’s stock price, increased 63% and CoreCivic’s increased 81%. Neither company responded immediately to requests for comment.
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