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Migrant children in a recreation area outside Casa Padre. Credit Loren Elliott/Reuters
Migrant children in a recreation area outside Casa Padre. Credit Loren Elliott/Reuters

The economic machinery behind immigration detention centers

The policy of "zero tolerance" brought forth by Donald Trump's administration has put on the table a multimillion-dollar network of contracts for shelter,…

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By now we should be used to the fact that there’s always a hidden agenda when the Donald Trump government is involved, but the publication of multimillion-dollar contracts for housing and detention of unaccompanied immigrant children is a new administrative gem.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced strong new anti-immigrant measures in February, part of his Unaccompanied Alien Children Program contained an "emergency shelter" contract for more than 500 immigrant children, which increased on May 4 to "provide beds for more than 1,000 children," paying up to $31 million to the “non-profit” Southwest Key Programs Inc., the Japan Times reported.

According to the company's tax return cited in the report, Southwest Key Programs Inc. "is to be paid more than $458 million in fiscal year 2018," and has "a dozen facilities in Texas including a site at a former WalMart Inc. in Brownsville that has drawn the attention from members of Congress and national news organizations," and which is currently known as the Casa Padre detention center.

These types of institutions "run detention and care systems for immigrant children on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services," explained TIME magazine, more specifically under the Administration of Children and Families (ACF), a department agency.

Thanks to the government's new "zero tolerance" policy, family units detained without documents at the border are separated; parents are immediately processed for illegal entry, and children are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the status of "unaccompanied minor," even when they arrived in the country from the hand of their parents.

This adds a considerable number of young people and children to the figures of other detainees who had arrived in the country on their own, consequentially exceeding the capacity of the Immigration and Customs detention centers.

In other words, the new government policies have become the goose that lays the golden eggs for companies that run detention centers.

The refugee office currently houses approximately 12,000 immigrant children, according to Steve Wagner, the assistant secretary of the ACF. More than 2,000 of these children have been separated from their families upon arrival in the country and transferred to several detention centers throughout the national territory.

However, this system of economic benefit at the expense of immigration is nothing new.

According to the New York Times, Southwest Key Programs "has won at least $955 million in federal contracts since 2015 to run shelters and provide other services to immigrant children in federal custody." In addition to the shelter at the former Walmart, the company operates "more than 30 facilities in Texas alone, with numerous others, contracted for about 100 shelters in 16 other states," the Times continues.

This reality had gone unnoticed in the public eye for a long time, especially because many employers have non-disclosure agreements with their employees, according to the report. But thanks to the images recently published by the media, the investigations have focused on revealing the economic machinery behind immigration detention policies on the border.

While there is already a "small network of private prison companies" active in both Texas and Pennsylvania, some analysts suspect that this will only grow under the new presidential directives.

Organizations such as the BCFS and other contractors - often affiliated with religious groups - have carried out for years what has been presented as "community work" when housing and caring for children and immigrants in general; what was unknown until now was the magnitude of the contracts provided by the government.

Apparently, when it comes to immigrants, there is no such thing as "non-profit."

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