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Focus on "Criminal Aliens" Increases Demand for Immigrant Detention Business

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In earnings reports released this week the nation's two largest private prison operators cited "significant growth opportunities" for detaining immigrants, driven largely by the Obama administration's emphasis on detaining "criminal aliens."

The GEO Group - an international private prison operator that draws about 75 percent of its revenue from controlling a quarter of the U.S. private prison industry - said it believes that "this federal initiative to target, detain, and deport "criminal aliens" throughout the country will continue to drive the need for immigration detention beds over the next several years."

A Third Quarter earnings report released on Monday shows The GEO Group is adding another 1,100 beds to its Aurora, Colorado, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center for a total of 1,532 beds. As part of its renewed contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the continued management of our Northwest Detention Center, capacity there will be increased from 1,030 to 1,575 beds.

Today Corrections Corporation of America - which manages more than 50 percent of all prison beds under private contract in the United States - said in its Third Quarter earnings report that revenue from its federal customers increased 4.9 percent, "primarily driven by the commencement of our new management contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons at our newly constructed Adams County Correctional Center." This facility in Natchez, Mississippi houses 2,567 "criminal alien offenders - low-security illegal immigrants who committed offenses in the United States and will be returned to their country of origin upon completion of their sentence."

The company's newly appointed CEO, Damon Hininger, told investors during a conference call that the company continues to focus on filling vacant capacity. He said he was pleased with an increase of 1,300 immigrant detainees in CCA's U.S. Marshall's facilities since January 2009. The company recently completed renovations of its 502-bed North Georgia Detention Center. It began receiving detainees from ICE in October and currently houses about 100 people.

Hininger said CCA has its eye on an ICE contract to build and operate a new 2,200-bed detention center in Los Angeles, and expects a procurement as early as December, though the company is not listed among the interested vendors on a government website listing the request for proposals for the contract.

Funding for expanded immigrant detention is provided in the FY2010 budget for the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a member agency. President Obama signed the budget into law on October 29. It includes $5.4 billion for ICE, about half a billion more than in FY2009. From this amount, $2.5 billion is allocated for detention and removal operations, and at least $200 million is provided for the Secure Communities program, which began in 2008 to screen for undocumented immigrants by taking the fingerprints of anyone booked into a local jail and checking for a match in ICE's database.

Critics like Joan Friedland, Immigration Policy Director of the National Immigration Law Center, have noted that as of March 22, 2009, "19,495 individuals were identified as undocumented through the Secure Communities program. Of these, only 1,436 were identified as 'Level 1 criminals.' The rest were arrested for lesser crimes, which include minor traffic offenses like driving without a license."

Read more at Business of Detention.

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