Critics Focus on Private Firms Running Immigrant Detention

Businesses that supply goods and services to support immigration detention centers face increasing public and political scrutiny from investors, employees and activists, NPR reports. Last week, employees at Wayfair protested the Boston-based firm’s supplying bedroom furniture to a facility housing migrant children seeking asylum. Bank of America said it would stop financing private prison and immigration detention companies, after similar declarations by JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. After American Airlines discovered that migrant children separated from their families were transported on its flights, the airline and other carriers asked the government to stop using their planes for that purpose.

Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Cory Booker (NJ), have pledged to dismantle an industry they say has created financial incentives to lock up more prisoners and migrants. Activists welcome the spotlight on this industry. “It’s never really drawn anywhere near this level of critical scrutiny, so I think there’s something about the involvement in immigration detention that has really tarnished [their] brand in a really significant way,” said David Fathi of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. There’s little public information about which companies make money providing goods and services to detention centers. The largest share of migrant detainees, about 52,000, are held in centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The National Immigrant Justice Center says 71 percent are housed in facilities operated by private prison companies. “If there’s one throughline between every single component part of the ICE detention system, it is opacity; it’s like intentional lack of transparency,” said Heidi Altman of the immigrant justice center.

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